How Ukrainian children understand the war
In their own words and drawings, new refugees share what they have been through.
PRZEMYSL, Poland — The wave of refugees flooding through Europe is striking not just for its historic scale and speed but also because half of the 3 million people who have fled the war in Ukraine are children. That means one child has become a refugee nearly every second since the start of the war, said James Elder, a spokesperson for UNICEF. Many have had to say goodbye to their fathers before undertaking difficult and disorienting journeys with mothers and siblings, sometimes waiting more than a dozen hours in the cold before being allowed to cross into safer countries. Parents have agonized over how to explain what was happening. Some kids heard they were going on vacation. Others were told directly: Our homes are not safe, and Dad must stay behind to defend our country.
To understand how some of these children are experiencing the war, The Washington Post asked young refugees at the train station in Przemysl, Poland — near the Ukraine border — to draw what stood out about the past weeks.
A home and family left behind
Veronika Lotova, 9, brought along her stuffed bear when she left her home in Ukraine’s Donbas region. She calls the bear Volodya, after a character in a television show she watched with her grandparents. Her family tried to get her grandparents out before the war, but they wouldn’t leave. Her mother worries that they and Veronika’s father won’t survive the bombings.
A view from the train
Diana Shekaturina turned 7 the day Russian troops began shelling her city of Sumy. Birthday cake baking was disrupted by the need to take shelter. Days later, she was on a train to western Ukraine with her mother and 11-year-old sister. Her father stayed behind, recovering from a prewar injury, with hopes to join them later. While Diana puffed out her cheeks and focused on her drawing, her mother, Alyona, wept in the background.
Separated at the border
Zhenia Grebenchuk, 13, fled Cherkasy, Ukraine, with his younger sister and mother, Tanya. His father took them to the bus and then returned home. Tanya said she and her children planned to wait out the war in Poland. Zhenia hoped it would only be a matter of weeks before Ukraine wins and he can kick around his soccer ball at home with friends again.
Tanks in combat
When air raid sirens went off in Poltava, Ukraine, Misha Demchenko, 7, followed his parents to the basement and waited until the booms stopped before returning upstairs. When something fell and made a noise at the Przemysl train station, he asked his mom where the nearest shelter was. She tried to assure him they were safe. Misha rummaged in his bag for his toy Mercedes, a model of a real car belonging to his dad, who stayed behind to fight.
Julia Alekseeva contributed to this report.
War in Ukraine: What you need to know
The latest: President Biden has landed in Europe for urgent talks starting Thursday with NATO, the Group of Seven and the European Council. As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reached the one-month mark, President Zelensky called for a global protest, urging people everywhere to take to the streets and denounce Russian aggression.
The fight: Russia — which has launched more than 1,000 missiles so far — is increasingly relying on “dumb” bombs to wear cities and civilians down. Russia’s assault on Ukraine has been extensive with strikes and attacks across the entire country, and Russia has been accused of committing war crimes.
The weapons: Ukraine is making use weapons like Javelin antitank missiles and Switchblade “kamikaze” drones from the United States and other allies to combat the superior numbers and heavier weaponry of the Russian military.
Oil prices: Sanctions on Russia are helping gas prices hit new highs. Here’s why — and how long the surge could last.
In Russia: Putin has locked down the flow of information within Russia, where the war isn’t even being called a war. “Information warriors” from around the world are working to penetrate Putin’s propaganda wall.
How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can help support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.
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