Two elderly Christian women, the only residents remaining in the Iraqi city of Teleskof after Islamic State militants drove nearly 4,000 people from their homes seven months ago, recently shared their story in heartbreaking detail.
"When ISIS came all the people of our city fled, but I didn't have any family or relatives and I wasn't able to run so I stayed here," said Sarya Matto, one of the two women still living in a tiny room with no electricity or running water told Kurdish news source Rudaw.
"I had a friend left here like me and when I found out the two of us got into a room, closed the doors and remained quiet."
After hiding in the small room in her house, located in the city just east of Mosul, Matto, and her companion, Madi Salim, were discovered by Islamic State militants.
"Though our house was far from the city center, 10 days later we heard human voices," said Sarya. "Then they knocked on our door. They were speaking Arabic. We didn't open the door but they broke it down and came in. They were three, wearing long beards. They asked us for money but we didn't have any. They searched the house, then one of them saw my gold cross necklace and tore it from my neck."
The women told the news source they will never forget the moment they faced the militants. Matto recalled trembling with fear when facing the killers for the first time.
"One of them said we should kill them, the other said 'why waste our bullets,'" she said. "Then they beat us with their rifle butts and left."
While all of the other residents of the town fled following ISIS' advance, the two women continued to hide in a dark room, surviving on very little food and water. After nearly fifteen days of hiding, Matto told Rudaw that she and her friend heard men speaking Kurdish outside, and they figured it was the Peshmerga.
"We immediately opened the door and we cried a lot when we saw them," said Matto. "They helped us. They brought us food and water."
Since overtaking large parts of Iraq and Syria last month, ISIS has driven thousands of Christians and other religious minorities from their homes in an attempt to establish a caliphate in the region. In February, 21 Coptic Christians were beheaded by the militants in Libya, and in March, over 200 Assyrian Christians were abducted, and their villages ransacked by the jihadist group.
Although Teleskof was recaptured by the Kurdish Peshmerga in August, none of its former citizens have returned, because the town is too close to daily battles with ISIS. Instead, Teleskof's entire population now lives in the Kurdish province of Duhok, a region so far untouched by the militant group.
"No one in the world has done to anyone what ISIS did to us," said Matto, referencing the thousands of Christians displaced or killed by the extremists.
"These women have no one," said Sharif Muhsin, a Peshmerga soldier who first discovered the women in August. "When we got here, we found them very weak and emaciated." He added that several people have claimed to be the two women's relatives, but "no one has come to take them away."