He does not appear as a victim of war without suffering some kind of loss: a disemboweled house. A member of his family has disappeared. lives robbed.
However, no one loses so much in a war as children – who have been maimed for life by their ravages.
In Ukraine, time is running out to prevent another “lost generation” – an expression often used not only to take the lives of young people, but also for children who sacrifice their education, passion, and friendships to change front lines, or suffer too deep psychological scars to heal.
The internet bar at the top of the Ukrainian government page, “Children of War” flashes with a grim and steadily rising toll: Dead: 361. Wounded: 702. Disappeared: 206. Found: 4,214. Envoys: 6159. Returned: 50.
“Each of Ukraine’s 5.7 million children suffers from trauma,” said Murat Şahin, who represents the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Ukraine. “I wouldn’t say 10 percent or 50 percent of them are fine – everyone experiences that, and it takes years to recover.”
According to humanitarian agencies, more than a third of Ukrainian children – 2.2 million – have been forced to flee their homes, and many have been displaced two or three times, with land lost. More than half of Ukraine’s children – 3.6 million – may not have school to return in September.
But even as the war enters its sixth month, advocates for children say there is plenty of time to make meaningful changes in how young people emerge from conflict.
In the maternity wards of Lviv, mothers pray that the fighting will end before their children are old enough to remember it. In eastern Ukraine, activists are looking for children who have disappeared across the front lines. Across the country, Ukrainian aid workers and officials are scrambling to repair bombed schools and start psychological support.
“We believe in children’s resilience,” said Ramon Shahzmani, president of War Child Holland, a group focused on psychological and educational support for children in conflict zones.
“If you are able to reach the children as quickly as possible, and help them deal with what they have been through and what they have seen, then they will be able to deal with their emotions,” he said.
This flexibility is manifested in the way children adapt their daily lives – scribble in crayons and paint on the wall of a damp basement where they are held captive, or invent a game based on the frequent checkpoints they are exposed to. They imitate the horrific truth they witness in war, but they also find ways to escape from it.
In the Donbass region, a 13-year-old girl named Daria no longer flinched or ran when a shell landed nearby, so she got used to the horror that explodes daily.
However, there is a cost of psychological trauma that is not treated. And the effects are not only mental, but physical as well.
Sonia Koch, director of Save the Children Ukraine, said children exposed to war are at risk of “toxic stress,” a condition caused by periods of intense adversity. The effects are so powerful that they can alter brain structures and organ systems, and last long into the lives of adult children.
Offering a hopeful path through war is not just for the children of Ukraine today, Mr. Shahzmani said. It’s for the country’s future, too.
The War Child group recently surveyed the children and grandchildren of those who lived through World War II and found that families even two generations later were affected by the traumas of war.
He said: “The war between generations.” “That’s why it’s so important to work on children’s well-being and mental health.”
Ms. Koch said education is critical to psychological support. Schools provide children with social networks among peers, guidance from teachers and a routine that can provide a sense of normalcy amidst the prevailing uncertainty.
More than 2,000 out of 17,000 schools in Ukraine have been damaged by the war, while 221 have been destroyed, according to United Nations statistics. Another 3,500 were used to house or assist seven million Ukrainians who fled to safer areas of the country. Nobody knows how many openings the school year will start a month from now.
Social devastation is difficult to repair. Thousands of families have been torn apart as brothers and fathers have been recruited or killed, and children forced to flee, leaving grandparents and friends behind. Aid workers have noticed an increasing problem of nightmares and aggressive behavior in young children.
Before the invasion, Ukraine had about 91,000 children in institutional orphanages, more than half of whom had disabilities, Mr. Shahin said. The outcome of the increase in this number has not been announced since the start of the war.
One of the major unknowns in the war is the number of children who have been orphaned or separated from their parents. But besides these orphans, Moscow forcibly deported tens of thousands of Ukrainians to Russia, according to Ukrainian officials. It is believed that many of them are children separated from their parents.
Now, Ukrainian activists are using secret networks inside Russian-controlled territory to try to get information on these children — and if possible, bring them back.
There is hope for orphans, too. New efforts led by the Ukrainian government and UNICEF have encouraged nearly 21,000 families to register as foster families. Already, 1,000 of them have been trained and accommodated children.
“It’s just the beginning,” Marina Lazbna, Ukraine’s minister of social policy, said recently. “Destruction sometimes encourages building something new, not rebuilding the past.”