The war in Ukraine when you are 10 years old | International

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Children feel uncomfortable when their mothers cry. They don’t know how to react, they make a face that wants to be a smile of circumstances. Viktoria is different: she caresses her mother’s hand when her eyes get wet. She cries because her 10-year-old daughter has just explained to EL PAÍS journalists that what she is going to miss the most is her grandparents. They are sitting on a bench at a tram stop in Lviv, western Ukraine, 800 kilometers from home. His house is located on the war front, in a village in the province of Kharkov. They have been traveling for two days and still have one more to go until they reach the border with Poland. There their father, who works in Warsaw, is waiting for them.

Among the more than a million Ukrainian refugees who have fled the war, tens or hundreds of thousands are children escaping from the hands of their mothers. Many others hide in shelters daily or survive in fenced-off cities like Mariupol. Cases like Viktoria’s show the extent to which war shows itself in all its horror in the frightened eyes of a child.

The cold was unusually severe this Saturday in Lviv. Viktoria pulled her TikTok logo hat down just above her eyes. Vlad is 11 years old and also comes from the Kharkov province. In his backpack she had time to put a shirt, a pair of pants and the food that his mother entrusted her to carry. The most important of his belongings is a blue doll, a little round monster: his father gave it to him when they said goodbye at the Kharkov station. “I lost it on the train and cried a lot,” recalls Vlad, “but we found it in the end.” He and Viktoria and his sister Juliana are unusually quiet at the Lviv station in western Ukraine. “It’s just that we cried a lot yesterday when the train left,” Juliana justifies, “because we knew they would bomb our city.”

Stanislava and Vladislava are friends and they met again in Lviv. 8 and 9 years old, respectively, they were neighbors in Kiev. It was precisely at school that she heard the first missiles hit the Ukrainian capital. “We were all locked up in the shelter and we were very scared,” says Stanislava, and in a low voice she confesses that she too was embarrassed: she did not dare to break the silence in the shelter to tell the teacher that she had pee.

Meanwhile, in a hotel wedding hall in the Romanian city of Suceava, 13-year-old Dina Vok sits on a mattress. Around her there are hundreds of people, all refugees like him, who have left through the Romanian border. Dina is one of those who keeps everything inside. She comes with her aunt and cousins ​​from the city of Vinitsia, where her father, a soldier, and her mother, a nurse who felt a moral obligation to stay, are still.

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He listens to music and plays with his cousin, or video games on his mobile, to combat boredom, but he has stopped consulting TikTok because, he says, “it is full of Russian propaganda”. Just over a week ago, he did a lot to deal with nervousness. His mother had woken him up a few hours earlier, right at the beginning of the war, and explained bluntly that he had to leave because Russia was bombing her country. “I was very scared. I was putting in the suitcase the clothes that she told me, ”he recalls. When the car got stuck in a huge traffic jam on the way out of town, he focused on checking his phone: “I was checking TikTok, Google News and Telegram all the time to find out what was going on,” he says.

He understands that “this is very real, not a dream”, but his green sweatshirt, with the word “Positive” screen printed, sums up his philosophy of life. “I’m fine here: I can eat and it’s hot,” she assures her, although she notices everything that goes through her head —and she tries not to show it— when someone mentions her parents.

— What is war for you, Dina?

— When a country kills people from another because it is ambitious.

They are now heading to Bucharest so that their mother, who is leaving through another border, can give them “a hug” before returning to Ukraine. He will go to the United Arab Emirates, where his grandparents live. “It will be very cool. A kind of vacation from school. And it’s hot there.”

Dina Vovk, at the Mandachi hotel in Suceava (Romania). alex onciu

Sofia Holodalina, 14, jumps up and down with joy sitting Indian style when the journalist approaches, even though she thinks that “newspapers are old people’s stuff”. It’s the closest thing to something fun that she’s had this week. She arrived in Romania a few hours ago from Zaporizhia, which is making headlines that day because it is home to the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and has been taken over by Russian troops.

She makes her want to laugh when her mother explains that they had planned to go in the second half of 2022 to visit her sister in Torrevieja, in the province of Alicante, but the war has forced them to advance their plans. “Thank you, Putin, for this favor!” She interjects with a mischievous smile dressed in a tracksuit. And when the journalist tells her that there is a beach in Torrevieja, she smiles at him and she stares the other way. “I think I will stay in Spain. I don’t think he wants to go back to Ukraine anymore. Just to see how it is rebuilt, how everything is remade from scratch.”

Islam, 12, in the center, looks after his brother Yasin, 4, while another brother, Illias, 7, hugs his mother, at the Kiev station.
Islam, 12, in the center, looks after his brother Yasin, 4, while another brother, Illias, 7, hugs his mother, at the Kiev station.Luis de Vega

In the crowded and chaotic station of Kiev, one of the places that serve as escapes from the war, Islam, 12, keeps an eye on his little brothers, Ilias, seven, and Yasin, four. They move around a large orange rolling suitcase in the midst of hundreds of people. Accompanying them is her mother, Kamala, 28, who apparently does not speak Ukrainian and leaves it to her son, her eldest, to communicate with the reporter. His father, Ali, 35, will accompany them to the border and then return to Ukraine. For this Uzbek family, who arrived in Ukraine four years ago, the time to emigrate has struck again. The child looks resolute and secure in the midst of the maelstrom. For them it is over, at least for now, to follow the school year, to complete integration away from Uzbekistan… Floods of people, both foreigners and Ukrainians, come every day to try to find a place on one of the trains that leave for Lviv. They go from the station hall to the upper floor and, after verifying that the next convoy to the west leaves from track 10, they go directly to the platform and to their new life

At six o’clock on Friday morning, 11-year-old Nika left her home in Odessa, along with her mother, two of her sisters and her dog. Six hours later they crossed the border into Moldova. They arrived by car. In the shop where tea and sandwiches are offered to new arrivals, they waited for a cousin to take them to Chisinau, the capital, to stay with him “for a week”. Nika will be 12 next week and she hopes to be back by then. “She cries all the time because her best friend has gone to Poland and she won’t come back, she will stay there studying,” says her mother. The girls correct their mother’s English, laugh, instantly become absorbed. “We wanted to leave, it was very scary. It took us an hour to cross the border, ”says the eldest of the sisters who no longer speaks English. Maria, the youngest sister, 9 years old, says “I’m fine”. She picks up a stuffed animal and continues playing with the tablet among her suitcases. The others take turns looking at the cell phone, carrying the dog in their arms. They have all the lips cut from the cold.

They have collaborated in this report Luis de Vega from Kyiv and Alexandra Sharp from Palanca (Moldova).

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