On an eight-day visit, New York Times journalists given rare access to Syria found ruin, grief and generosity. What was missing after eight years of civil war? Young men and a middle class.

Picking our way around the ruins of the Damascus suburb of Douma, it took a little while to realise what was missing.

There were women carrying groceries, old men droning by on motorbikes and skinny children heaving jugs of water home.

But there were few young men.

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They had died in the war, been thrown in prison or scattered far beyond Syria's borders. Now, it had fallen

Ruin and recovery, allotted unequally

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Assad is everywhere. So are his underlings

"We all have the same sad stories"

"It was our honour to sacrifice him"

In Aleppo, busy days with nights bereft of light

Even after eight years of war, still the best