Real-time updates: Russia’s war in Ukraine

Diana Negru is a psychologist working at the UNICEF Blue Dot Refugee Center in Palanca.
Diana Negru is a psychologist working at the UNICEF Blue Dot Refugee Center in Palanca. (Ivana Kottasova/CNN)

The walls of the playroom at the Palanca border crossing between Moldova and Ukraine are covered with children’s drawings. Among the sea of ​​hearts and Ukrainian flags, one picture stands out: an elephant floating above a Russian tank.

The drawing, recessed with a pink marker, is signed “Vanya, 12 years old”.

“He acted like an elephant and said that if he were an elephant, he could destroy the tank by stepping on it,” says Diana Negru, a psychologist at the UNICEF Blue Dot refugee center in Palanca.

Vanya, his mother and two siblings fled Kherson, a city in southern Ukraine that has seen heavy fighting since the start of the war and is now under Russian control.

When Negru met the family, they were on their way to Germany. Vanya’s father stayed to fight.

A Russian tank destroyed half of his family’s house, and Vanya saw everything. He saw his grandmother die,” Negro told CNN.

Like many children entering her door, Vanya needed urgent help. He couldn’t breathe, his eyes were moving, and he was very emotional, Negro said.

“Some children are traumatized, they react to any noise. If the door closes, they become scared and aggressive, so we need to calm them down, try to focus their eyes, use breathing techniques to help them,” Negro explained.

The team of psychologists, social workers and therapists have limited time with each family. Blue Dot provides refugees with information and helps them on their journey, but it is not an accommodation facility.

Drawing of a 12-year-old boy from Kherson.
Drawing of a 12-year-old boy from Kherson. (Ivana Kottasova/CNN)

During CNN’s visit on Wednesday, several families were waiting at the center for buses to take them to Germany. The little girl was in the playroom, stacking blocks on a toy truck under the supervision of a therapist.

A bus carrying 70 refugees from southern Ukraine was driving towards the border, and workers at the aid station hurried to prepare food and make sure the center was ready.

Sometimes several buses arrive at once, and hundreds of people need help at the same time.

“This is not a full therapy, we can only have 20 minutes with the child, so the goal is to stabilize him and calm him down,” Negru said.

“We just show them that they are now in a safe place.”