Ukrainian children bear the brunt of the war: Photo

It’s a late July morning, and the sound of summer camp is the sound of summer camp everywhere as kids race from activity to activity.

But Midgard Forest Camp in Kyiv, in wartime Ukraine, and when the air was pierced by warning sirens, the children knew what to do, gave up their jump ropes and tennis games and dashed for safety.

It’s a routine as familiar as lunch.

War has brought a new reality to Ukrainians, but some things still hold true, and as the weather warms, some parents are faced with the perennial question: What should we do with the floods? young this summer?

With children isolated and out of contact with society – some motivated by the fierce battle to flee their homes – schools and camps began to operate to provide programs.

Parents considering sending their child to Forest Camp, run by Midgard School, may have asked about mentor-camper ratios or arts programs, but on Feb. Russia spilled over the border into Ukraine, all of that changed.

“My first question for the school was whether they had shelter,” recalls Nataliia Ostapchuk as she saw off her 6-year-old son, Viacheslav Ivatin, one morning near this.

That’s right, and when the sirens go off another morning, that’s where the campers head.

The kids spent about an hour in the basement bunker, and for the most part, they strode.

The shelter covers about 5,000 square feet, and with the frequency that kids have to go there — at least once a day — the school is well equipped for it. In addition to tables and chairs, there are toys, table games, and television screens. There is also an air supply system, toilets, showers and Wi-Fi.

Polina Salii, 11, whose family fled fighting in Pokrovsk, a town in the east, said: “I don’t feel like I’m in a shelter.

Back in Pokrovsk, her family would run down to a basement resettled as a shelter, with canned food, porridge and bottles of water.

“When there was shelling in the distance,” recalled Polina, “we were there all night.”

Campers seem to quickly forget about their basement surroundings, spending time on their electronic devices as their parents are sent reassuring text messages. But when the siren sounded, the children happily responded, climbing the stairs to continue their day.

At least, until the next whistle blows.

Midgard School opened in 2017, and as in previous years, when summer comes, it transforms into a camp.

But this is unlike any other year.

This summer, the camp offers a 50% discount for the children of Ukrainian military members, many of whom are deployed on the far eastern front lines. About a third of campers come from internally displaced families, who attend for free. And campers no longer hang out during the day off campus. They need to stay close to the shelter, in case the sirens sound.

Many families of internally displaced campers arrive with less than they can take with them. The school has also provided housing for three families fleeing fighting in the east. They are living in what is usually a kindergarten building.

Five years ago, when her son was born, Maryna Serhienko decided that Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, could use a family development center. So she founded one. She calls it Uniclub, and it offers community members a kindergarten, a summer camp, and a gym where moms can bring their kids.

Like Forest Camp, Uniclub reassembled itself after Ukraine was invaded.

“When the war started, we organized a shelter,” says Ivan Zubkov, Maryna’s husband, who helps her manage the center. “Families with their children – and even pets – are living in shelters.”

Public kindergartens are not open this summer in much of Ukraine, but Uniclub has 25 children in its kindergarten class and 12 in its camp.

It has also provided services for children evacuated from Mariupol, the eastern city brutally besieged by Russian troops. Uniclub provides clothes to those who need them, along with discounts and tuition waivers.

Several families have landed at Uniclub to escape hostilities elsewhere in Ukraine – if only for a stopover.

Many have moved on and with no prospect of a ceasefire in sight, some have left Ukraine altogether. Their pets are another story.

“Now we have a lot of guinea pigs, birds and even a turtle that we are taking care of,” Mr. Zubkov said.

It used to seem like an incomprehensible summer activity, but Ukraine itself has become incomprehensible, and so a program that teaches children how to reduce the risk from landmines suddenly doesn’t look so weird. odd.

The class is conducted by Soloma Cats, a charity that works with experts from the State Emergency Service and the National Police. Over the course of a week, in five districts of Kyiv, children and their parents are provided with mine and unexploded ordnance safety lessons.

Although Russian forces withdrew from Kyiv after initial attempts to capture the capital were unsuccessful, the areas around it were occupied and as the invaders withdrew, repositioned for an offensive. attack in the east, there are reports of mines and bomb traps left behind.

Today, more than 100,000 square kilometers of territory in Ukraine is contaminated with landmines, the charity said. “Children and adults alike need to know how to react if a dangerous object is detected.”

The war took a heavy toll on Ukrainian children.

Many have been uprooted from communities turned into killing fields. Many people have lost family members to the fighting. And many people were killed.

Last week, Ukrainian authorities announced that since the beginning of the Russian invasion, at least 358 children have died and 693 children have been injured.

Not many children remain on the front lines of Ukraine. Most have been taken out of the danger zone, to centers for internally or externally migrants.

But some parents were reluctant to leave, or to allow their children to do so. And so summer camp or any summer program is just a pipe dream. The goal is simple survival.

“I know it’s not safe here,” said one mother, Viktoriia Kalashnikova, standing near her 13-year-old daughter, Dariia, in Marinka’s yard, on the east side, as the town burned. “But where are you going? Where? Who will take us? Who will pay?”

Even those escaping the war may find each day a test of uncertainty.

In Kyiv, Ihor Lekhov and his wife, Nonna, recounted running away from Mariupol with their parents and three children. With Mariupol now in Russian hands and their old home partially destroyed, the family has been living in the capital since March.

But they have found a welcome in Kyiv – and even a summer program for their children. Uniclub accepts two older boys for free.

Maksym Lekhov, 12, said: “There are sports games in the camp and team games, 12 years old, says: “I like walking and playing outside most of all, but I also enjoy taking group classes. “

However, there was one thing he wanted more than that.

“I want the war to end,” Maksym said. “And I want us back home.”

Jeffrey Gettleman and Oleksandra Mykolyshyn contributed reporting,

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