Shells. Landmines. Shrapnel. For almost eight years, fear has filled the lives of children in eastern Ukraine. Now, with an escalating conflict, children are more scared than ever.
Like many children, sisters Katia, 7, and Daryna, 9, live in eastern Ukraine, along the so-called contact line which divides government- and non-government-controlled areas. Growing up there means they haven’t really had a chance to worry about the things that a lot of children their age would. With their families, they’ve had other things on their minds — like where they might have to evacuate to.
“If we had to leave, I’d take what I needed — my teddy bear, food and my family,” Daryna says. “I won’t go anywhere without my family.”
Daryna and Katia have grown up knowing nothing but conflict. Their fears are justified. Earlier this month, a local school was attacked.
“When they fired, our curtains began to flap,” says Daryna. “Katia was scared. Then we found out on the internet that one person was injured and that the school was hit.”
For years now, hundreds of thousands of children living along the contact line have had to deal with the stress and uncertainty of needing to be ready to flee with their families at a moment’s notice.
Nastia, 16, below, says she has recently been discussing with her family what they should do if there’s an attack. “We have a cellar near the house where we can hide if they shoot,” says Nastia. “But I don’t really want the shelling to happen again, because it’s really scary. You don’t know where the shell will fall, where to hide.”
Every day, more than half a million children live, study and play in one of the most mine-contaminated areas in the world. Homes, schools, hospitals and crucial water and sanitation facilities have regularly come under attack.
This protracted crisis has already had a devastating effect on the psychological well-being of children. Now, unless the fighting subsides, many more families could be displaced, and thousands more children will be forced to make decisions that no child should have to make.