One year ago today, children and young people in Ukraine had their lives turned upside down by the conflict. Many Ukrainian families woke up to bombs being dropped on their towns, missed phone calls from frightened relatives and the rumble of airplanes flying low.
David*, a 13-year-old boy from a town near Kyiv, is just one young person forced to leave his home after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“The day before we were sitting in the classroom, the teacher came, we studied the evacuation, we were shown where to hide if something happened. But on 24 February, at 4 am, my mother came in and said, ‘you’re not going to school because the war has come to us.’ I was scared and surprised.”
Families grabbed what they could carry and walked out their front doors – unsure if or when they’d be able to return. They left behind homes, schools, communities and were separated from brothers, fathers and friends who stayed behind to join the fight and protect their homes.
In the last twelve months a staggering 18.2 million people left everything behind and fled into neighbouring countries like Moldova and Poland. Since then, 10 million have returned home.
On the first day of the invasion five planes flew over the town. After that, they had three days of quiet. “On the fourth day they started firing from everywhere.”
“We were constantly sitting in the basement. Then the water and the light disappeared; everything disappeared, we sat in the dark and cold. We did not leave the house; it was very scary,” said David.
“It was very cold in the house; it was not heated at all. So, we moved to my grandmother’s house because she had a gas boiler. We were there for 11 days.”
“Then they started shooting. We ran out of my grandmother’s house in panic, red bullets flew over us, hot and glowing, we saw them over our heads. We ran into the cellar and stayed there all night.”
After a night in the cellar, the family decided it was time for them to evacuate the town. His father led the family and other people in the town to the evacuation site.
“The last time we saw my dad was leading us to the evacuation site. My dad went to save other people, and we stayed where people were waiting for buses to evacuate. We rode the school bus, then the bus broke down and we moved to another one. We drove from Kyiv to Volyn for almost a day. We were very tired on the way.”
David and his mother arrived at the camp tired and hungry. The camp provided them with food and shelter so they could rest. It was the first time in weeks they felt safe.
In times of violent conflict, children and young people are particularly vulnerable to trauma and often cannot access education or health care. ChildFund is working with local partners on the ground to provide food, hygiene kits, medical supplies, warm clothes, blankets, electric heaters, transport and fuel to families impacted by the Ukraine conflict.
ChildFund Alliance’s member organisations, ChildFund Deutschland and We World, are responding in Ukraine and Moldova. They have equipped emergency shelters for children and their families, and their mobile teams are providing counselling and referral services for refugees arriving in Moldova from Ukraine.
At the Displaced Persons Centre (DPC) a psychologist Olesya, diagnosed David with a high level of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She set up sessions with David to help him understand and learn to manage his trauma.
“It was a little scary in the first session, and then I got used to it. Now I know how to ground myself, I like meeting new people, drawing to help me deal with the stress and memories.”
After two months of meetings with a psychologist, David’s symptoms of acute stress and the level of obsessive memories decreased. Gradually he began to feel safe, made new friends, began to sleep better.
As the conflict continued and the harsh winter set in, the hopes of returning home were crushed for Ukrainian families. Temperatures have dropped below freezing in Ukraine this winter, and essential infrastructure such as water supplies, hospitals and schools have been hard hit.
Homes are continuing to be destroyed, leaving more than 17 million people without adequate shelter and protection and in urgent need of food, clean water and basic health care.
With no end in sight David’s father has told them to stay at the displacement camp.
“I really want to go home but it is too dangerous to return. I feel hope though that I’m going home and soon everything will be over.”
Children and young people from Ukraine have and continue to face a level of trauma and crisis many of us cannot fathom. You can donate today to support families impacted by the Ukraine conflict. Your support will help to deliver relief to those in need as the crisis unfolds.
*Name has been changed to protect individual’s identity.