Death, danger, despair: A year in Myanmar under the military

People in Myanmar speak about how their lives have changed in one year since the military took power



An anti-coup protester uses a fire extinguisher to provide cover for others as security forces approach their encampment in Yangon. — AP file
An anti-coup protester uses a fire extinguisher to provide cover for others as security forces approach their encampment in Yangon. — AP file

By AP

Published: Sun 30 Jan 2022, 8:15 PM

Last updated: Sun 30 Jan 2022, 8:16 PM

An elderly woman forced to flee bombings. A former peace negotiator leaving his job to fight Myanmar security forces. A woman’s husband shot during a peaceful protest, leaving her alone to care for their two children.

Since Myanmar’s military dismissed the results of the country’s democratic election and seized power on February 1, 2021, peaceful nationwide protests and violent crackdowns by security forces have spiralled into a nationwide humanitarian crisis.

The Associated Press spoke to people in Myanmar about how their lives have changed in the year since the military took power. They spoke on condition their names are not disclosed for fear of reprisal.

The widow: He suddenly disappeared

Family members cry after a man was shot dead during an anti-coup protesters crackdown in Yangon. — Reuters
Family members cry after a man was shot dead during an anti-coup protesters crackdown in Yangon. — Reuters

Before his death, Khine’s husband earned enough money, making door gates that her family lived a comfortable life in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. She was able to stay home to care for the couple’s two young daughters while the husband worked.

On February 1, Khine’s husband got a phone call from a friend, telling him about the military takeover.

“He looked really sad, angry and couldn’t talk much,” Khine told the AP by phone.

In the weeks that followed, protests calling for the military to restore democracy and free imprisoned politicians rippled through the country. Khine and her husband joined the crowds.

In late March, as security forces began using lethal force to crack down on protests, Khine was babysitting when demonstrators came to her home to tell her that her husband had been shot. They took him to two clinics but both refused to treat him. He died when they reached a hospital.

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“He suddenly disappeared,” she said. “Before the coup, I had never imagined that our family life would fall apart like this.”

Her husband is one of at least 1,490 people killed by the military since the takeover, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a group that monitors verified arrests and deaths in Myanmar. Over 11,775 have been arrested, according to the group.

Since her husband’s death, Khine has started working at a garment factory, earning $3 a day. Unable to afford their old apartment after the loss of her husband’s income, the family has moved into a small room. She worries about being able to provide for her children and their mental health.

“My eldest daughter is becoming traumatized,” said Khine. “She often says, ‘My friends have their fathers, but I don’t.’”

The displaced: Feeling the war is exhausting

Ethnic Karen villagers, who fled recent attacks by the Myanmar military, carry on life in temporary shelters along the Moei River on the Thai-Myanmar border. — AP file
Ethnic Karen villagers, who fled recent attacks by the Myanmar military, carry on life in temporary shelters along the Moei River on the Thai-Myanmar border. — AP file

Bomb blasts, gunfire and artillery shelling have followed 63-year-old Mee at every shelter she’s been forced to flee to over the past year.

She first had to flee to a camp for the displaced after fighting broke out near her village in eastern Myanmar. A month later, the camp was no longer safe, and the medicine she needed for her heart disease and hypertension wasn’t available. With nowhere else to go, Mee moved to a relative’s house.

“While we were there, gunfire was heard,” Mee told the AP by phone. “We decided not to run away, even if we died, because fleeing the war is exhausting.”

Not long after, the area near her relative’s house was bombed, and she had to move once more. For now, Mee shares a small barn with 15 other people, all of them displaced. She has enough medicine only for two months and is concerned about the future of her family and the country.

As of January 17, the UN refugee agency estimates the number of the displaced since the army takeover at 405,700. Another 32,000 have fled to neighbouring countries.

“I am worried and tired every day,” Mee said. “For now, my hope is that I just want to see peace and calm. Then, I want to go back to my house.”

The surgeon: Lives have to be sacrificed

A protester uses a fire extinguisher as others holding homemade shields run during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon. — AP file
A protester uses a fire extinguisher as others holding homemade shields run during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon. — AP file

Before the military seized power, the 28-year-old assistant surgeon was studying for his exams to become a specialist. He lived with his family and would take pride in treating patients at the hospital he worked at in a major city.

On the morning of the takeover, he went to work, seeing military vehicles on the roads and helicopters overhead. The phones and internet were cut. Stepping into the hospital, he learned the military had detained the country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

The next day, he and other health care workers in state-run hospitals quit, sparking what would become known as the Civil Disobedience Movement.

“After the military coup, we no longer wanted to work under them. We believed all the health sectors will have no progress under the military,” he told the AP by phone.

Myanmar has become one of the most dangerous places in the world for health care workers, according to Physicians for Human Rights. It said 30 health workers were killed and 286 arrested between the takeover and January 10.

Seeing his colleagues getting arrested, the surgeon fled to an area controlled by an armed opposition group. He has worked in makeshift clinics made of tents in camps for four months, treating people with general illnesses and those wounded by military shelling and land mines.

Protesters hold up the three-finger salute and placards with the image of detained Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi while using their mobile torches during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon. — AFP file
Protesters hold up the three-finger salute and placards with the image of detained Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi while using their mobile torches during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon. — AFP file

Medicine is hard to find, with security forces arresting anyone transporting medication.

“We have to carry medicine secretly. That’s why it takes about a month for medicine to arrive,” he said. “Even if cars are carrying paracetamol or something like that, they’re arrested.”

The surgeon still dreams of being able to return home to take the exams for a specialist.

“But dreams and reality are different,” he said. “The people are suffering from the oppression of the military council. Lives have to be sacrificed for the revolution.”


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