Hind Safaa has returned to her hometown of Qaraqosh in northern Iraq after Islamic State fighters were pushed out of the town. She and her family left the area two years ago due to fears that Islamic State fighters will target them as religious minorities.

Safaa was shocked to witness the destruction and ruins brought upon a town she once called home. Her house where she spent her entire childhood was destroyed.

“I can’t describe how I really feel. All of these pieces that have been thrown and destroyed carry beautiful memories,” Safaa said. “These are things that mom and dad worked very hard to build.”

Safaa, her parents and siblings were lucky to have left the town in August 2014 two hours before Islamic State took over. Some in town weren’t as lucky.

Before IS attacked Qaraqosh, Safaa was going to Mosul’s College of Medicine and dreamed of becoming a doctor.

Her family left everything behind, taking refuge in the relatively safer Kurdistan region in northern Iraq.

Saffa told VOA that militants have taken whatever they could and destroyed the rest.

“In every room, there were shattered parts of furniture, broken plates and torn clothes making it hard to walk through the house,” Saffa said. “It was so messy because IS fighters were planning to burn the house, but for some reasons they didn’t.”

Saffa added that IS burned hundreds of other houses that belonged to Christian minorities in the area, including the tall church of St. Mary al-Tahira.

“IS graffiti has been smeared on its [church] walls, the nave is scorched black by fire and the altar has been vandalized,” Saffa said.

St. Mary al-Tahira church was once Iraq’s largest Christian church, and about 3,000 people attended the church every Sunday. Its symbolic significance for Iraqi Christians explains why hundreds of residents rushed back to the town to re-establish the church in late 2016.

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