Ukrainian children have become the main victims of Russia’s invasion, with one million minors having already fled the country, leaving their mothers in a vulnerable situation in which they have to learn to deal with the trauma in the midst of the tragedy so as not to pass on their fear to the younger ones.
Olexiy, only one and a half years old, is in the arms of her mother, Svetlana, waiting for the next train at the station in Lviv, western Ukraine, that can take her out of the country after having to flee Russian bombs.
“I was trying to stay calm for my son so as not to pass on fear to him. And when there were sounds of shelling, I told him it was bad weather and that it was thunder,” Svetlana, 38, told EFE agency today from a special room at the train station that accommodates mothers with their children up to 5 years old.
The city of Lviv has become the main reception point for Ukrainians fleeing the conflict, especially from the east of the country, to Poland or other bordering countries, such as Romania or Hungary.
Among the more than two million Ukrainian refugees since the beginning of the conflict on February 24, considered the fastest-growing exile since the end of World War II in 1945, at least one million of them are children, according to the latest data from Save The Children.
Svetlana and her son come from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city and which has been devastated by Russian shelling, and she says they have been there until the last few days hiding in the hallway and bathroom of their house until they decided to leave for Lviv.
“I hope this is not going to have an impact on my son and his mental health, but I am already noticing that my son has learned to say boom boom,” referring to the sound of explosions.
Outside the station is little Sasha, almost 7 years old, playing with his stuffed animal, which he calls Misha, together with his parents and grandmother waiting to get out after escaping from the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv, where they lived until the windows of their house exploded from the impact of the shelling.
“My house was almost down, Misha and I are not afraid because we managed to get out of there, we were hiding in the bathroom,” said Sasha, while her mother starts crying as she repeats that “they have no home, no city and nowhere to go.”
The grandmother looks at Sasha and comments that he has not been afraid at any time and that he sees this “journey” as “a great adventure.”
The hard role of mothers
Psychopedagogist Sergiy Kruglyk, 58, is a volunteer at the Lviv station and is one of the first people mothers and children see when they arrive at the transit point.
The children “do not understand the journey with their mother and without their father, they do not understand the conditions they are in,” the expert told EFE, adding that it is true that when they arrive he can see “the fear in the eyes” of some minors, but above all, he sees that fear in “the eyes of the mothers.”
In the room where he is, they welcome women and their children up to five years old and then take them directly to the train to avoid the long queues to get on the train, and thus try to prevent them from experiencing more traumatic situations.
“We have to give the mothers all the information calmly, that everything is fine here, without shelling and that there is peace here,” Kruglyk explained, alluding to the situation in Lviv, where sirens sounded in the first days of the invasion, but now it has become one of the relatively “safer” areas of the country.
Precisely, some of the families waiting at the station come from Mariupol, in southeastern Ukraine, where yesterday a children’s hospital was attacked where at least three people, including two minors, were killed, according to Ukrainian authorities, who accused Russia of launching the attack.
“Women panic and that fear is transferred to children. That is why it is very important to deal with mothers and put the focus on them as well,” Kruglyk concluded.