Sheltering Ukraine’s Youth From Fear and Distress
Sept. 7, 2023
Russia’s war against Ukraine is now entering its eighteenth month. The war has seen sustained and indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas and left some 17 million people in urgent need - a number equivalent to the entire population of the Netherlands.
UN figures put the current number of Ukrainian refugees living overseas at 6.3 million - more than half of whom are children. Many families have become separated - yet hope still endures. Even so - as War Child communications officer Oleksandra (Sasha) Yarova explains - feelings of fear and distress are never far away.
Due to the war, 6.3 million people have been forced overseas - more than half of whom are children
Photo: Michael Jessurun
On Ukraine’s frontlines
“My brother is still in Ukraine on the frontline,” Sasha explains. “As soon as the full-scale war started, he volunteered for duty in the Territorial Army. And since last August he has been in the regular army. Our connection is still very strong - but it is now different. It’s become more valuable because it is so fragile - and we are so far apart.”
Communication is hard to maintain due to Ukraine’s shattered infrastructure - leading to inevitable feelings of anxiety. “Did I do everything I could to provide him with clothes and gear? On a practical level I did what I could - but how do I take care of him emotionally? How do I protect him? These questions stay with me…”
Sasha returned to Kyiv last week for the All-Ukraine Teacher Conference
Since the war started, 3750 education institutions have suffered bombing and shelling
Photo: War Child
Far from home in the Netherlands
Sasha ruefully laughs that she has become as much a military supervisor as a communications professional, as she checks social media for news on her brother’s safety. She currently lives in the Netherlands with her young son - where she works to support War Child’s efforts to deliver education and psychological first-aid to children both inside and outside Ukraine’s borders.
A recent visit home showed how Ukraine’s children remain exposed to the threat of terror and violence. “I went to Kyiv a few weeks ago and met my friend who has two kids, eight and three years old,” she explains. “We met at the playground in the centre of the city that was bombed back in September. It initially felt normal - a perfect place to meet. Then I noticed there was a flat part of the playground, and something was missing. And then it hit me that this was where the bomb dropped.”
Hope through education
And it’s not just the playground that has taken on this dual meaning. School basements have morphed into bomb shelters - with children huddled side-by-side in a dimly lit room waiting out the air raid sirens.
While this paints a gloomy picture, the reality is quite different - as Sasha can attest to. It was here, in one of these basements, that she really saw our emergency education app Can’t Wait to Learn come to life. “Sometimes children end up in the shelters for hours”, she says. “The educational games offer a sense of fun and comfort amidst the chaos surrounding them.”
Returning to Kyiv last week to present the app at a conference hosted by the Ministry of Education, Sasha is determined to position Can’t Wait to Learn as a viable solution to the growing education gap in her country.
“It’s a small solution that can ultimately have a big impact”, she says. “Children shouldn’t have to wait to learn and dream about their future.”