Children of War – New York Times

No casualty of war comes out without some loss: a gutted house. The person you love is gone. Lost life.

However, no one loses as much in war as children, wounded for life by its destructive action.

In Ukraine, there is less and less time to prevent another “lost generation” – an often used expression not only for young lives, but also for children who sacrifice their education, hobbies and friendships to shift the front line or suffer from too deep psychological trauma. be treated.

The ticker at the top of the Ukrainian government’s “Children of War” page shimmers with a grim and ever-increasing number: dead: 361. Wounded: 702. Missing: 206. Found: 4,214. Deported: 6,159. Returned: 50.

“One of the 5.7 million children in Ukraine has an injury,” said Murat Shahin, who represents the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, in Ukraine. “I wouldn’t say 10 or 50 percent of them are fine – everyone goes through it and it takes years to recover.”

According to humanitarian agencies, more than a third of Ukrainian children – 2.2 million – have been forced to leave their homes, with many of them displaced two or three times due to loss of territory. More than half of Ukrainian children – 3.6 million – may not return to school in September.

However, even though the war is now in its sixth month, child rights advocates say there is time to make significant changes in how young people emerge from conflict.

In Lviv maternity hospitals, mothers pray for the fighting to end before their babies are old enough to remember. In eastern Ukraine, activists are looking for children who disappeared behind the front line. Across the country, aid workers and Ukrainian officials are trying to repair bombed-out schools and start psychological support.

“We believe in children’s resilience,” said Ramon Shahzamani, chairman of War Child Holland, which provides psychological and educational support for children in conflict zones.

“If you can connect with the kids as soon as possible and help them deal with what they have experienced and seen,” he said, “then they can deal with their emotions.”

Credit…Tyler Hicks/New York Times

This resilience manifests itself in the way children adjust their daily lives—drawing with pencil and paint on the wall of a damp basement where they are kept imprisoned, or inventing a game based on the frequent checkpoint stops they are subjected to. They mimic the grim reality they witness in war, but also find ways to escape it.

In the Donbass, a 13-year-old girl named Daria no longer flinches and runs when a shell hits nearby, she is so used to the terror that erupts daily.

However, there is a price of unhealed psychological trauma. And the consequences are not only mental, but also physical.

Children stranded in war are at risk of “toxic stress,” a condition caused by extreme periods of adversity, said Sonia Khush, director of Save the Children in Ukraine. The effects are so strong that they can change brain structures and organ systems, persisting throughout the adult life of children.

Offering a hopeful path through the war, it’s not just Ukrainian children today, Mr. Shahzamani said. This is also for the future of the country.

The War Child group recently surveyed the children and grandchildren of World War II survivors and found that families, even two generations later, suffered wartime trauma.

“War is an intergenerational process,” he said. “That’s why it’s critical to work on children’s well-being and mental health.”

Education is critical to psychological support. Kush said. Schools provide children with social networking among peers, guidance from teachers, and routines that can provide a sense of normalcy in the face of pervasive uncertainty.

According to UN statistics, more than 2,000 of Ukraine’s approximately 17,000 schools were damaged by the war, and 221 schools were destroyed. Another 3,500 people were used to shelter or help the seven million Ukrainians who fled to safer parts of the country. No one knows how many of them will open when the school year starts in a month.

Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

Social destruction is even more difficult to repair. Thousands of families were torn apart as brothers and fathers were drafted or killed, and children were forced to flee, leaving grandparents and friends behind. Aid workers have noticed a growing problem of nightmares and violent behavior in young children.

Before the invasion in Ukraine, there were about 91,000 children in residential institutions, more than half with disabilities. Shaheen said. No estimates have been published of how much that number has risen since the start of the war.

One of the main unknowns of the war is the number of children orphaned or separated from their parents. But, according to Ukrainian officials, in addition to the orphans, Moscow also forcibly deported tens of thousands of Ukrainians to Russia. It is believed that many of them are children separated from their parents.

Now Ukrainian activists are using underground networks in Russian-controlled territories to try to get information about these children and, if possible, bring them back.

There is hope for the orphans. A new initiative led by the Ukrainian government and UNICEF has encouraged about 21,000 families to register as foster families. Already 1,000 of them are being trained and accept children.

“This is just the beginning,” Marina Lazebna, Ukraine’s social policy minister, recently said. “Sometimes destruction prompts us to build something new rather than rebuild the past.”