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Displaced Donbas children rediscover peace in Kharkiv

Article by: Anatoliy Mazhora
Translated by: Anna Mostovych

It takes several months for children who have been removed from occupied Donbas to forget the sound of shooting and explosions. In peaceful Kharkiv they continue to fear the drone of helicopters flying over the city and the explosions of firecrackers and fireworks during New Year celebrations.

Christmas carols can be heard in the children’s room organized by the volunteer group called Station Kharkiv. The Christmas story is performed by Kharkiv grade school students for the Donbas children that have been left here for several  hours by their parents.

“There isn’t that much available for the children. If you look, drawing classes and workshops cost money. And here everything is free. Not everyone can afford paid workshops,” says Andriy, the father of one displaced child.

A little boy is terrified by the sound of a screwdriver.

Parents bring children here when there is no one to watch them at home. The children play together, draw and talk in the small room. In peaceful Kharkiv they are supposed to forget the sound of the shooting and explosions that they heard at home in the Donbas, says Anna, a volunteer.

“They were repairing a lamp in the room,” she explains. “A worker came and switched on the screwdriver and the little boy hid in the toy house and would not allow anyone to approach him until his mother and grandmother arrived. The children who come here have fallen out of their home environment and they do not have the company of other children. They come here, see children and this stimulates them and relieves their stress,” she says.

In the same building but on a lower floor, volunteers hand out humanitarian aid and clothing to the refugees. In addition to food, families with children also receive children’s items. Vadym, a volunteer, shows a box that is issued to the refugees. “This is help from Poland. It includes diapers and four packs of baby food.”

The Kalinin family has three children. They came to Kharkiv from occupied Donetsk. For the past three months they have been living in a separate room in the Promin (Ray) rehabilitation center for invalid children. After arriving in Kharkiv with only two suitcases, the family is now dressed and fed. The local government and volunteers are helping. The older son, Artem, is teaching the alphabet to the youngest brother.

Donetsk child accepted at local school

Despite being on vacation now, Artem recites (school) lessons. He has open textbooks on the table. The school that he attends is located near his residence.

“At school I’m not called a separatist. They accepted me without a problem. In Donetsk I knew everybody, and here these are new people. I still need to get used to it,” Artem says.

The boys’ favorite game is hide and seek. They hide under the bed with flashlights.

“Perhaps they still want to hide to avoid seeing anyone and hearing anything. Here in Kharkiv they have recovered already. This has now become a part of their game. They hide, invent something, play,” the boys’ father, Valeriy Kalini, explains.

The Kalinin family will move soon. They will be settled in the modular houses donated by the German government.


Translated by: Anna Mostovych
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