Children of Ukraine: the trauma of war

There is something disturbing about Nazar Obanasenko’s look. A strict look by no means for a 10-year-old. Moreover, the fifth year student admits it, and has the impression that he will be at least two years old in a month.

This month is the month he spent, hiding in the basement of the family home with his mother and grandmother in Borodinka. He said he was the only man in the house. As such, he forbade crying. But the nervous tics he developed, like uncontrollable blinking, are all evidence of the trauma he’s been exposed to.

The bombing largely destroyed this sector of Borodinka.Photo: Radio Canada / Jean-Francois Belanger

The sounds of war still haunt him. He said the planes made a huge noise and the bombs whistled when they landed. And when it blew up, it was horrible.

He admits it so easily, he still gets frightened and jumps up every time he hears an explosion. They are also numerous, because demining experts of the Ukrainian army are busy recovering and destroying mines and unexploded bombs left by Russian soldiers.

I know the Russians are gone, but I can’t help but shiver every time I hear an explosion. »

Quote from Nizar Obanasenko 10 years old

Borodyanka is an hour’s drive west of Kyiv. It was occupied by Russian soldiers from the first days of the war in their attack on the capital. It is part of the martyred cities at the beginning of the conflict, with Butch, intense bombing and summary executions.

Almost every building in the city was at least partially destroyed, and the school was no exception. It was occupied by Russian soldiers, and it still bears traces of their presence: inscriptions everywhere, the remains of combat rations, and a classroom completely destroyed by the explosion.

Nizar is eager to get back there. Back to school to occupy the mind and expel dark thoughts.

Accompanied by their mothers, young Ivanka and Nastya set foot there for the first time since the departure of Russian soldiers. They are only 7 years old and are excitedly heading towards the corner of the classroom where the toys pile up. But their laughter hides an even darker reality. Little girls spent their time crying, in the corner of the basementexplains Lyudmila Shevchuk, Nastya’s mother. They are still very anxious and cry every time they hear a loud noise.

Photo of Ivanka and Tanya.

Ivanka and Tanya go back to school for the first time since the departure of the Russian soldiers.Photo: Radio Canada / Jean-Francois Belanger

Young girls spontaneously admit that fear still consumes them. Ivanka also waved her hands madly when asked about the source of her fears. I’m afraid the soldiers will come to our house and start shooting, as you say. Tanya continues in the same breath: I’m afraid the tanks will come back and start shooting at houses again.

Child psychologist Katrina Goltzberg makes no secret of this, this trauma is likely to leave long-term sequelae in these children. Some will feel guilty for surviving when their loved ones die, and they may develop suicidal thoughts. Others may have desires for revenge.

Katrina Goltzberg's photo.

Child psychologist Katrina GoltzbergPhoto: Radio Canada / Jean-Francois Belanger

She says the damage is not limited to children who have witnessed the horrors of war for themselves. Those who live far from the front lines are also affected. It must be understood that children have a very vivid imaginationPsychologist says. They tend to imagine the worst. She cites her ten-year-old son as an example, whom she overheard doing research on the consequences of nuclear war and ways to protect against it.

She adds that young children lose all orientation when they realize that their parents are unable to protect them from war.

They become anxious and fearful from a young age and may find it difficult to trust others as they get older. »

Quote from Katerina Goltsberg, Director of the Ukrainian Association of Child Psychologists

According to her, it is important that children return to a semblance of normal life as soon as possible; So they can go back to school, for example. A possibility, however, seems far from reality. Whether destroyed or converted into a reception center for displaced families, schools are not about to reopen.

Until then, Ukrainian children should be satisfied with distance education as in the time of COVID. Provided, of course, that they have an internet connection and that they have electricity. For the rest, families and the community try to compensate as much as possible.

On a street corner near Borodinka, a cotton candy store and a giant stuffed bee settled where once stood a Russian army post. There is a lot of laughter as the children sing and dance with the yellow and black mascot.

In a bee costume, Maxime Nechitaylo explains his gait. It is important to bring smiles and joy to childrenHe said.

His sentence was interrupted by the systematic explosion of the stockpile of mines and bombs left by Russian soldiers. Ukrainian deminers have been very active in the area over the past few days. Maxim continues: It is important to show the children that then, after the horror of war, you can live a good life again.

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