5 May 2016

Ukraine: Childhood is now, not later

Nine-year-old Katya and her sister are happy that schoolmates gave them a rabbit. They do not have any toys to play with. Photographer: Marko Mägi

Forced from their home by the conflict in eastern Ukraine, 40-year-old Sergey and 36-year-old Sveta live together with their three daughters in one room to stay warm and save money.

“We heat the house a little bit with gas and a little bit with electricity, but it’s very expensive,” says Sergey*, sitting in the room, floors covered with carpets and blankets to keep the warmth.
 
The family of five, originally from the Donetsk region, live in Kniazhychi, a village about 30 kilometres from Kiev, Ukraine. They escaped from their home in the summer of 2014, when the conflict in eastern Ukraine slowly but steadily came closer.

They belong to the 1.78 million people who have been internally displaced in Ukraine since the armed conflict started in 2014, according to the UN.
 
Before moving to Kiev, they stayed in the north-eastern part of the country for a few months. But there was no work, and no means to support Natasha, 12, Katya, 9, and Alina, 7.

Impossible to find work

“It was impossible to find work,” Sergey remembers. “As soon as people heard that we were internally displaced persons they turned us down – they couldn’t be certain we would stay for a longer period and thought it would be better not to give us a job,” says Sergey, who worked on the railroad in Donetsk.
 
In the Kiev region, the job situation is better. Both Sergey and Sveta work in construction, but the work is only temporary.
 
“When there is no work, I just sit here and think – how to find a job that will bring bread to the table,” says Sveta.
 
“At the moment we haven’t had work for a week, but we have to pay the rent for the house and feed the children. One option would be to sign the contract and fight in the conflict. They pay good money, but I would not like to leave my children and wife behind,” says Sergey. “I cannot kill people, either.”

Childhood is now

“We won’t go back to Donetsk as long as the war is going on, because it is still not safe for civilians and we don’t accept it as our government,” says Sergey. “Even if we would go, there’s no work. We don’t have any plans for the future,” he continues. “We had plans and look what happened.”
 
“The children miss their school and friends, their toys,” says Sveta. “They want to play and we cannot afford to buy them toys. It’s their childhood; it is now, not later.”

Staying positive

Although their circumstances are hard and it is a daily struggle for the parents to find a way to cope, they try to remain positive. “We try to be positive, although we have moments when we don’t know how to go on,” says Sveta.
 

The family live together in just one room because it is wamer this way and they can save money. Photo: Marko Mägi

The family finds strength in their religion and in other people. ”Sometimes I don’t even notice, but I start to smile when I see people from SOS Children’s Villages,” Sveta says.
 
SOS Children’s Villages Ukraine has helped the family with food and clothes, and also with art therapy and English courses for children.
 
“The girls adore art therapy,” says Sergey. “They have a chance to go somewhere and talk to people; at home the life is a bit boring, as the only entertainment is a DVD player that we use to listen to music, and a rabbit that some schoolmates gave to Alina.”
 
“We thank people who notice and care about our struggles.”


*All names have been changed to protect the family’s privacy.