Ukrainian children: the trauma of war

There is something disturbing in Nazar Opanasenko’s gaze. A stern look; in no case a 10-year-old child. In addition, the 5th year student admits that he has the impression of having been at least two years in the course of a month.

This month is the one he spent in the basement of the family home with his mother and grandmother in Borodyanka. He was, he said, the only man in the house. And as such, he forbade himself to cry. But the nervous tics he developed, such as uncontrollable blinking, are all evidence of the trauma he experienced.

The shelling largely destroyed this sector of Borodyanka.Photo: Radio-Canada / Jean-François Bélanger

The sound of war still haunts him. The planes made a sky-blowing sound and bombs whistled as they fell, he said. And when they exploded, it was awful.

He happily admits he is still engrossed in fear and jumps every time he hears an explosion. They are also numerous, for deminers from the Ukrainian army are busy recovering and destroying the mines and the unexploded bombs left by the Russian soldiers.

I know the Russians are gone, but I can not help but shake every time I hear an explosion. »

A quote from Nazar Opanasenko, 10 years old

The city of Borodyanka is an hour’s drive west of Kiev. It was from the first days of the war occupied by Russian soldiers in their offensive against the capital. It, along with Boutcha, is part of the martyr cities from the beginning of the conflict, the scene of massive bombings and summary executions.

Almost all the buildings in the city were at least partially destroyed, and the school was no exception. Occupied by Russian soldiers, it still bears traces of their presence: inscriptions everywhere, remnants of battles, and a classroom completely destroyed by an explosion.

Nazar is eager to get back there; to go back to school to occupy the mind and chase dark thoughts away.

Accompanied by their mothers, little Ivanka and Nastya set foot there for the first time since the departure of the Russian soldiers. They are only 7 years old and walk enthusiastically towards the corner of the classroom where the toys are stacked up. But their roar of laughter hides a darker reality. The little girls spent their time crying, curled up in a corner of the basementexplains Lyudmila Schevchuk, Nastya’s mother. They are still very anxious and cry every time they hear a loud noise.

Portrait of Ivanka and Nastya.

Ivanka and Nastya return to their school for the first time since the Russian soldiers left.Photo: Radio-Canada / Jean-François Bélanger

The little girls spontaneously admit that they are still engrossed in fear. Ivanka also waves her hands frantically when asked about the source of her fears. I’m afraid soldiers will enter our house and start firing, she says. Nastya continues in the same breath: I’m afraid the tanks will come back and start firing at the houses again.

Child psychologist Kateryna Goltzberg makes no secret of it, this trauma is likely to leave long-term sequelae in these children. Some will feel guilty about surviving when their loved ones died, and may develop suicidal thoughts. Others may desire revenge.

Portrait of Kateryna Goltzberg.

Child psychologist Kateryna GoltzbergPhoto: Radio-Canada / Jean-François Bélanger

And, she says, the damage is not limited to children who have witnessed the horrors of war first hand. Those who live far from the front lines are also affected. It must be understood that children have a very vivid imaginationsays the psychologist. And they tend to imagine the worst. She cites her ten-year-old son as an example whom she overheard conducting research into the consequences of nuclear war and the means to protect against it.

She adds that young children lose all their orientation when they realize that their parents are incapable of protecting them from war.

They become anxious and scared from a young age, and they may have difficulty trusting others as they get older. »

A quote from Kateryna Goltzberg, director of the Ukrainian Association of Child Psychologists

According to her, it is important that the children return to a normal life as soon as possible; so they can go back to school, for example. A view that, however, far from seems to be realized. Whether they have been destroyed or turned into a reception center for displaced families, schools are not about to reopen.

Until then, Ukrainian children will have to make do with distance education, as in the COVID era. Provided, of course, that they have access to the Internet and that they have power. After all, families and society try to compensate as best they can.

On a street corner near Borodyanka, a cotton candy and a giant stuffed bee have taken up residence where a Russian army post once stood. There is plenty of laughter when the children sing and dance with the yellow and black mascot.

In the bi-costume, Maksym Nechytailo explains his gait. It is important to bring smiles and joy to childrenhe said.

His sentence is interrupted by the controlled explosion of a stockpile of mines and bombs left behind by Russian soldiers. Ukrainian deminers have been very active in the region for several days. Maksym continues: It is important to show children that after that, after the horrors of war, one can have a good life again.

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