There are many victims of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the group that is affected most severely, are the children: Russian children, Ukrainian children, and children all around the world. As Chevi Ilina, a Belarusian 17-year-old, said in my interview with her, “what is worse than a spoiled childhood?”
Children need stability, but instead, Ukrainian children have been forced into high-stress, traumatic situations whilst barely understanding what is going on. All they know is that their day-to-day life has been supplanted by gunshots and bombs and dread. And their most steady source of security—their parents—are unable to provide the comfort that kids rely on, thus threatening a normal development.
When children start to see they can’t control their current situation, and that their worries are going unanswered, it can lead to low self-esteem, attention deficit disorder, learning disabilities, and even depression and suicidal thoughts. Because there is no structure from school, no security at home, and no idea of what is to come, children can find it hard to regulate their emotions or form secure relationships. Chevi fears for Ukrainian children, especially because her aunt, who just made it safely to Germany from their home in Ukraine, has two young kids, aged 11 and 6. The 11-year-old girl has remained silent from shock while the 6-year-old boy hasn’t stopped crying for his father. He knows his mother’s face has changed but doesn’t understand why. “They are agitated, you know it’s scary, it’s just indescribable. One day someone just invades your home and starts bombing you for no reason. They see their parents crying, they sit in basements, they hide from bombings, they feel terrified,” Chevi says. Right now, as thousands of families flood railway stations in Ukraine to flee, children are getting lost in the crowd and when volunteers ask them their names or their parent’s names, to help reunite them, the children are unable to respond, as if they forgot who they are. As Chevi explains, “it’s a darkness and it takes a lot of time [to process].”
Like post-World War II children, who, in their old age, talk about the terrifying images they witnessed in their past, Ukrainian kids of all ages will never forget. In experiencing extreme brutality while their brains are first learning to understand the world, many will develop PTSD, and learn unhealthy habits at the neuronal level. Some may develop a propensity for violence while others disassociate, never to learn how to express themselves.
Even before Putin’s latest escalation, Ukrainian children had lived in tension for eight years, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The full-scale war, now two weeks old, brings this especially vulnerable part of the population only more pain and further setbacks that will last no matter the outcome of the war.
- Etta Feuer