Ukrainian children also play war | International

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The first word three-year-old Richard said was “yes.” He delivered it on February 24, the day Russia launched its land, sea and air attack on Ukraine. His parents did not know what to do, whether to leave his house in Sofiivska Borshchagivka, on the western outskirts of kyiv, or not. They tried asking the boy, who is autistic and had never uttered a single word in his life. Richard said, yes, let them go. He had understood that something was going on and that led him to speak. Malvina Kozlovets, his 29-year-old mother, tells the story, still trying to hide her tears with laughter. Today he lives in the city of Lviv, in the west of the country, where Richard goes to the Dzherelo rehabilitation center, one of the best in Ukraine for the care of children with disabilities, many of them now also hit by the hand of the war.

Because the war crushes everyone, adults and minors, but the effects on the latter are hidden who knows where to appear when one least expects it. It takes away part of their childhood and deprives them of games and dreams. According to United Nations data, almost half of Ukraine’s 6.6 million internally displaced persons are minors. They require psychosocial attention and maximum care to prevent them from falling into human trafficking. At least 352 children have lost their lives since February, a figure that the UN is in the process of reviewing and that, when finished, is expected to be much higher.

Malvina Kozlovets’ son is one of the fifty children displaced by the violence that the Dzherelo center, run by the municipality and therefore limited to patients from Lviv, has been able to serve thanks to the collaboration of Unicef. Marina left the outskirts of kyiv with brothers and nephews. Richard’s father tried to enlist in the Armed Forces without success and stayed to distribute humanitarian aid with some friends. When the little boy was traveling with the family to Ivano-Frankivsk, the first stop on his flight, he uttered another word: “poof”. Immediately afterwards he silenced a projectile.

Does he talk to you about the war?

-I don’t put the news on, but when we’re in the street and we see the soldiers, I explain that they’re the ones who protect us. He has even gotten used to sirens and sometimes even falls asleep when they sound.

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Ani Sokolovska, 29, has also built a bubble to protect her six-year-old son Tigran. It is the first day that she brings him to Dzherelo. She has no diagnosis yet; the minor has some cognitive deficiencies. “I try to protect him,” she says while Tigran is in a class, “I don’t talk to him about the war; I tell him that bombs are fireworks.” And she says it because they have suffered a lot in Mikolaiv, her hometown, from which they arrived on July 21, a couple of weeks ago.

They left behind a place crushed daily by Russian bombardment, one of the hottest spots on the Black Sea coast. It was difficult for them to flee because they were waiting for news from Tigran’s father, a soldier stationed in Mariupol before the start of the invasion and who, with the capitulation of the city, was arrested and taken, according to the information that Sokolovska has managed to gather, to Sevastopol, in Crimea, under Russian occupation. The boy knows nothing of this, needless to say. “I tell him that the father is working,” says the young woman through tears, “that he will be back soon.” But there is something inside that cannot be stopped. “The other day she saw a video in which a soldier played the violin and then she did start crying and screaming, asking for his father to come back.”

Tigran returns from his class and is asked how it went. “Normal,” she says. That is, neither fu nor fa.

One of the Unicef ​​mobile units has moved to the Stryiskyi park, one of the most beautiful and oldest parks in the city of Lviv, and the place where the first housing units for those fleeing the war were built. 300 people still live there. The coordinator of this unit is Olesga Danishenko. The difficult thing for them is to achieve, without pressure, that the children tell what they feel, that they communicate. And at first they don’t. “They believe that there is a way to feel that it is good and another that is bad,” explains this worker. And since the current one is not good, they keep it. “They feel anxious because they left their homes,” she continues, “because they are in a new place, new people and new lifestyle.”

Two children played checkers this Wednesday next to the housing module for displaced Ukrainians, in the Stryiskyi park, in Lviv.IHOR FEDORIV (UNICEF)

It is difficult to talk to the little ones, but you have to try. The children come and go through the park as if it were their little country, they give hugs to the employees who assist them, who play with them, and continue running freely. Two of them play something like checkers.

“What is war, Yaroslav?

He is seven years old and follows his own, he does not want to answer, he wants to beat his eight-year-old friend Timofiy, and that man who asks is a stranger. You have to insist otherwise:

―Yaroslav, you who are already older, how would you explain to a five-year-old girl what war is?

“When someone shoots.

The board with the tokens stays still for a moment. Timofiy also wants to answer: “War is when the missiles fly and hit buildings or not, and explode or not.” They know what they say because, in addition, they play at it, at being military and fighting, much more than before, as the workers who accompany them daily have identified.

Danishenko admits that there are parents who do not talk to minors; sometimes they do not know how to do it, or it is not within their priorities. Olga Moskal, 42, from Sviatohirsk, Donetsk Oblast, is a single mother. She is one of those who prefers not to talk about it with her children, one 11 years old and another three. But the older one already understands. He is very shy, but he understands well. He “he cried from time to time and told him that something had gotten into my eye, but he already knows why I cry.” The boy does too, more than before the war.

The number of displaced persons is not what it was after the start of the Russian military campaign, but it remains the same and even registers some increases. According to the latest report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), dated July 23, the number of citizens who fled their homes to seek refuge in other regions of Ukraine grew by 6% in one month, reaching those 6.6 million.

Around Novoiavorivsk, on the way to the Polish border, around 1,400 displaced people still live, most of them from the Donbas region, in the east of the country, the main front of the current Moscow offensive. A group of teenagers gathers in a hall of an old spa from the times of the USSR. They are shy; It seems that things are not going with them. Bodham, 13, learned from Telegram group information that his city, Lisichansk, in Lugansk province, had fallen. Many things happen to them, but he doesn’t have the feeling that he is losing his childhood. “I can go outside, sometimes I go to a skate parkI have new friends”, says the boy, with an extremely low voice, but smiling and sincere eyes.

Three teenagers from the center for displaced people in the town of Novoiavorivsk, in western Ukraine, this Wednesday.
Three teenagers from the center for displaced people in the town of Novoiavorivsk, in western Ukraine, this Wednesday.IHOR FEDORIV (UNICEF)

Artem is 16 years old. The mothers who are watching what their children say present him as a swimming champion. Perhaps that is missing now, he says, not being able to swim like in Lugansk. But little else. “I don’t notice anything different, I don’t feel anything.” He wants to be a train driver, that is clear to him. Veronica is the same age as him. She has her head down since she sat down. She plays with her hands and is thoughtful. She looks like she has a head full of stuff. She arrived on April 8 from Kherson, a town in the east heavily hit by Russian troops, along with his mother, his sister and a nephew. “I don’t think the war is going to end anytime soon,” he says.

“Do you talk to your mother about it?”

-Nope.

“Even though it’s changing his life so much.

“If something happens, we talk about it, but rarely.

You don’t need more, says Veronica. Tomorrow he has the distance test that can give him access to the University. She wants to pass and continue studying. Her life goes on.

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