ATHENS, Greece – Jawad Hashimi watched from thousands of miles away as his city fell to the Taliban.
Sitting in his apartment in central Athens, the 30-year-old asylum seeker from Taloqan, Afghanistan, received WhatsApp updates from his cousin and uncle in his hometown as the Taliban swept across the country.
On Aug. 8, his cousin sent him a video. It showed a group of men raising the white Taliban flag over a building in the heart of Takhar Province’s capital city.
"For me, it’s like my mother is drowning in front of me, and I cannot help," Hashimi said. “I cannot do anything. Just pray.”
A week later, the Taliban seized Kabul – completing their takeover of the country, forcing government officials out of the city and declaring it the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. More than 120,000 people, mostly Afghans, were evacuated in the final weeks of U.S. occupation, but untold numbers remain who wished to flee.
On Monday, the last U.S. troops flew out of Kabul, effectively ending America’s 20- year war in Afghanistan. The situation has left Afghans abroad concerned for both the future of the country and the safety of family members still there.
"The pictures, I cannot see them even,” Hashimi said of the photos and videos of people attempting to flee. “They make (me) feel so sad about our country.”
Hashimi fled Afghanistan for Greece in 2016 after receiving letters from Taliban representatives demanding he stops working for Afghanistan Green Trend, a pro-democracy organization in open opposition to the Taliban, started by former vice president Amrullah Saleh. When Hashimi didn’t respond to the demands, the Taliban threatened him with death, he said.
Now, Hashimi is concerned for his uncle and 17-year-old cousin who remain in Taloqan. Though his family told him the Taliban’s presence in the city has diminished, Hashimi fears for his cousin, who has made anti-Taliban social media posts and argued with Taliban members when they tried to cut up the flag of Afghanistan.
"I have told him not to do this because of his life,” Hashimi said. “He doesn’t listen to me.”
Masihullah Hafizi is in a similar situation. Hafizi left Afghanistan about seven years ago and is now in Athens seeking asylum. But most of his family still lives in Kabul. They unsuccessfully attempted to leave the city through the airport in late August before returning to their house in the capital.
"Still they are in their home because I have (younger) sisters, and we don’t know what Taliban will do with them," he told USA TODAY. "Every day the situation is going to be worse."
Hafizi said he has heard rumors from other provinces of women being assaulted and married off to Taliban fighters.
"I’m worried also and afraid, too, because my family and my country, both of them are my pride," he said.
Despite the Taliban publicly promising peace and saying they will respect women’s rights, Hafizi doesn’t trust the claims and expects the group to turn violent, like when they controlled the country from 1996 to 2001, he said.
"We are the generation where we passed our whole life in the war,” Hafizi, 26, said. “Against who? Against Taliban. All our life has been in these situations.
“This Taliban doesn't have any difference with previous Taliban,” he added. “They’re all the same. A donkey is a donkey. He can never be a horse.”
For Hashimi, his worries go beyond violence.
“One thing we know for sure,” he said, is that freedom of expression and women’s rights “will be gone.”
Women in Taloqan, his family told him, now cannot go outside unless they are escorted by a male relative. “Worse is not only violence,” he said.
“Worse is when your daughter cannot go to school. When your sister cannot go to university. When your sister cannot be a doctor. This is not good.”
Hashimi said the Taliban takeover means he does “not have anything.” And he hopes the international community will recognize the situation and help.
“I am empty,” he said. “I lost my country. I lost my flag. Help us. Support us. Not leave us. Not now.”