"I want to put all our enemies on Mars so that they do not interfere with our life": War through the voices of children

"I want to put all our enemies on Mars so that they do not interfere with our life": War through the voices of children

The voice of a child in war is poignant, painful, and sometimes not childlike at all. How does a child in war feel, what do they ask, what do they focus on, and what do they dream about? How does their life — home, family, friends, games, the world around them — transform?

To the anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Voices of Children Charitable Foundation, which has been providing psychological and psychosocial assistance to children affected by the hostilities since 2015, published the book War through the Voices of Children. The book contains about 100 quotes that demonstrate children's view of war. The quotes were illustrated by designers, artists, and photographers. Among them are Nikita Titov, Serhii Maidukov, Irina Vale, singer Jamala and her son, singer Sviatoslav Vakarchuk, and chef Yevhen Klopotenko.

Read a few stories from the book in the article by Svidomi.

You can order the book on the website of the Voices of Children charity foundation. All proceeds go to psychological assistance to children.

Yeva, 3 years old

Told by her mother Alla

We understood that there would be a big war. A month before 24 February, my husband signed a military contract. On 24 February, I woke up to the sound of planes flying over Ternopil. My husband went to the military unit and was immediately sent to the frontline.

It was difficult with the children. I had to explain to them where dad had gone and what we were going to do next. Usually, my son spent more time with his father, and my daughter was with me. But when Sasha left, Yeva missed him the most. This whole year she has been falling asleep and waking up asking when her dad will come.

We live in Ternopil. But Yeva was born in Bakhmut. My husband and I met in the east in 2015 when we were both volunteering there. After the liberation of Debaltseve, neither shops nor pharmacies worked there, so we helped with food, medicine, and pastime activities, and conducted training for children.

Sasha was then studying at the Ukrainian Catholic University, he received a grant and opened a youth centre in Svitlodarsk. We got married, had a son Sasha in Kramatorsk, and a year later, Eva in Bakhmut. We moved to Ternopil when she was 20 days old.

When my husband went to the frontline, I realised that now I had to protect and care for my children alone. This kept me from falling apart.

I worked for a charity fund, organised the evacuation of people remotely, and looked for housing for them. It helps me mentally because when my husband says they are going into battle, I am losing my mind.

Sasha was wounded, his vehicle was shot by a tank. This is life from one call to another. You seem to calm down, but something happens every minute.

Because we had lived in Svitlodarsk for a long time, I knew the sounds of explosions, so I wasn't too afraid of them. And when I take it calmly, so do the children. When there is an air raid alert, the children know from my words that it's just planes flying, and our dad shoots them down. When the air raid ends, it means that dad has shot them down.

In the evenings, when I put them to bed, we have a tradition of talking about the day. Yeva and Sasha sometimes say something about their dad. Once we were lying down during an air raid alert, and Eva said: 

When our dad comes back from the war, he will sleep next to me so that he won't be afraid of air raid alerts.

We are proud of our dad. Once, during an offensive in the Kharkiv region, in which he took part, the Russians started firing artillery, it lasted for about 6 hours straight. All this time, our guys were in the trenches. My husband decided to read a book by Timothy Snyder. He has a goal to read 100 pages a day no matter what's happening. His colleagues took a picture of him, and I posted it on social media. Different people started to share it, and that's how it ended up on Snyder's Twitter.

Nazar, 10 years old

Told by Nazar and his mum Liudmyla

We are from Zolote, Luhansk region. I had a job, and Nazar went to school in Hirske that was nearby. We were there for almost the entire war in the east from 2014 to 2022. We could always hear the explosions, especially when there were any escalations on the frontline, five kilometres from Zolote. We knew when a shell was happening by us, when we were getting shelled, and at what distance.

Three weeks before February 24, the situation worsened. Heavy fighting was already taking place a few kilometres away. Sometimes shells would hit our settlements. On February 23, foreign journalists came to the children's centre and said there would be a big war. The next day we started packing our things.

When they said we had to leave, Nazar cried. I explained that we had to leave now, because a full-scale war had started and there might not be a chance to leave later. Nazar then packed his things himself.

On our way, there were strong explosions everywhere around us. My colleague was so scared that she suggested we stay somewhere and not go any further. But we didn't stop because we knew it was scary to be under occupation.

Nazar: "When we were leaving, it was scary, I didn't know where we were going. I drew pictures while we were driving, it helps me calm down. I didn't really think what I was drawing, I just drew, and in the end I got a tree with big roots. I also wrote the words 'dream', 'love' and 'joy' on it. My mum says that the roots mean that I wanted to stay there, at home, so that I could come back after the war. I calm down when I draw, I don't think about what's happening around me. Now I don't draw as often as I did in Zolote. There I drew pictures almost every day."  

Nazar was quite depressed. He said: "I am numb, I closed my soul with a shield so as not to remember and not to feel." It was hard at the time, the nine of us were living in a two-bedroom apartment. Later, his piano teacher, whom he loves, came to Poltava, so he started playing music again. He also met with a psychologist online, which also helped. In May, he began to recall some of the events he had lived through and share his experiences.

Once we were talking about the war. And he said what seemed to me to be an adult phrase: 

We haven't lived long enough, I want to live a little longer

In the summer, we moved to the Kyiv region, where I was offered a job in Bucha. Nazar went to ballroom dancing classes here. He had always dreamed of ballroom dancing, but there were no trained instructors in Zolote. I saw him change after the classes.