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The horror of war seen through the eyes of Ukrainian children

Ukrainian children
Author unknown. Photo: open source
The horror of war seen through the eyes of Ukrainian children
Article by: Christine Chraibi
In just three weeks since the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, over 1.5 million Ukrainian children have fled the country, seeking refuge from the unthinkable and often traveling alone to neighboring countries. Another six million minors remain in Ukraine, many trapped with their families in Eastern and Southern Ukraine, spending the last days of the winter in outdated bomb shelters and cold basements. Grassroots initiatives across the country are employing arts and crafts in a desperate attempt to mend some of the incalculable tolls on the mental and physical health of the youngest Ukrainians. The Ukrainian media Ukrainska Pravda gathers drawings of the war as seen through the eyes of Ukrainian children.

The Russo-Ukrainian war has undoubtedly taken an extremely heavy toll on the civilian population, but none have suffered more than Ukrainian children. No child has been spared, either physically or psychologically as civilian targets and residential neighborhoods continue to be shelled daily. To date, more than 105 children have been killed by Russian bombs and missiles, countless wounded. Tens of thousands of minors continue to be evacuated daily from cities and villages, where shortages of food, water, medicine, electricity, and water now seem neverending.

Ukrainian children
Anastasiya Bobrovska (9 yrs), Kyiv. Photo: Ukrainska Pravda

Seen through a child’s eyes, the horror of war is heartwrenching

Since the war started, some Ukrainian mothers have given birth in basements and bomb shelters; the first sounds that these newborns hear are loud, sometimes deafening explosions. Air raid sirens wail on and off, sending families hurriedly to the nearest bomb shelter. As children wait for the end of the air alarm, many of them draw images of Ukraine – the way their country is today, and the way they imagine it could be soon.

What would you expect a child to draw? Animals, sunshine pretty flowers, stick figures of a happy family, perhaps some trees and a bright blue sky?

Viedana, town of Vasylkiv. Photo: Ukrainska Pravda
Ukrainian children
Viktoriya (8 yrs), Kyiv; Kateryna (5 yrs), Kyiv. Death to Putin! Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes! Photo: Ukrainska Pravda
Zoya (9 yrs), Russian ship, f**k off! And Putin is kaput! Photo: Ukrainska Pravda
Ukrainian children
Author unknown. Death to the enemy! Glory to Ukraine! Photo: open source
Ukrainian children
Sashko Hryn (11 yrs). Occupiers, get out! We’ve had enough of your shit! No matter how hard you try to win, we’ll defeat you in the end! The end is near! Photo: Ukrainska Pravda

Today, volunteer organizations work with children, encouraging them to perform and/or draw pictures. Some images are shocking, some are unexpectedly hopeful. Some kids draw bullets, guns, dead bodies, and other horrors that come with war. They may have seen loved ones killed, been forced to flee from their home, or had their school, community, and lives torn apart. Others draw flowers and hearts, sending messages of love and support to Ukrainian soldiers.

Such grassroots initiatives have been working with children of the war since the early days of the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine and are now expanding and boosting their therapeutic programs.

Ukrainian children
Anastasiya Rabotniova (14 yrs), Kyiv. We want Peace! You will not make us slaves! Ukraine is free! We are not afraid! We will survive! We cannot be broken! We will not give up! Ukraine is one and united! Photo: Ukrainska Pravda

In many regions of Ukraine, parents band together and organize art therapy classes for their children, encouraging them to express their emotions on paper, through song, dancing or poetry. The parents of children of the song and dance ensemble Sonechko in Lviv have organized several art sessions for their kids. The project was linked to another initiative whereby volunteers sewed first aid kits, added basic medicines, and adorned them with personalized drawings.

Evidence has it that children are helped in overcoming their experiences and some of the trauma of war through activities such as drawing, dancing, singing, and various other forms of art therapy.

Artistic activities could also prevent long-standing issues from developing from wartime trauma. Art therapy has long been recommended by psychologists to evacuate stress and deep-seated emotions. This can help children of war to build constructive platforms and develop the confidence and life skills they will need later on in life.

Any form of art is an expressive form of psychotherapy, a version of art-making that helps to improve the children’s social, mental, and emotional functioning. Art therapy increases the feelings of well-being and is considered a healing process through non-verbal communication, exploration of emotions, and self-discovery.

Art also functions as a source of spirituality that provides aesthetic pleasure and inner peace. Thus, children who are unable to speak about the events, whether good or bad, are given the opportunity to do so through any art form they choose.

Ukrainian children
Viktoriya (8 yrs), Lviv. To the Armed Forces of Ukraine. You are our guardian angels! Photo: Ukrainska Pravda
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