"I miss my friends scattered in different countries."

How UNICEF in Croatia provides psychosocial support to refugee children from Ukraine

Marina Knežević Barišić
mlada džudašica Mariia iz Ukrajine
20 July 2022

"My plan is to become an Olympic champion and then a judo coach," shared Iliia, whom we met in Split, Croatia, where he arrived after the war in Ukraine started. Iliia also told us that he regularly attends distance learning from Ukraine: "I never miss classes and I try to get good grades."

Apart from training hard, these young athletes from the Dnjipro Judo Club hang out with their friends, attend classes, and learn the Croatian language. The children are taken care of by their coaches, who have created a daily schedule of activities to ensure that the children have a routine that will help them feel safe in moments that are not easy even for adults, and especially for children and young people.

Trener džuda Rodion Kokhanovsky

"When we were leaving, I told the children that I am now their dad, mom, grandma, grandpa and if they have any kind of problem, I am here for them, and they should turn to me for help. They talk to their parents every day via video call. I am grateful for the warm welcome in Split, we are really satisfied with everything. The judo club from Solin helped us by donating tatami mats, and the hotel provided us with space where we set them up so that the children regularly train, and in their free time we go to the beach. Our days are full, which is important for every child in my opinion. "

Rodion Kokhanovsky, Judo coach

Iliia told us that he really likes Split, especially nature, fresh air and clear sea. Mariia (14) agreed and added that she feels safe in Croatia. in her opinion, this, along with support and health, is the most important thing in the growth of every child. Their coaches and judo now play an even more important role in the lives of these children.

"In my family, judo is a family sport. Since I was little, I watched my brothers train and judo got under my skin. For me, judo is the meaning of life", shared Mariia and Iliia added: "I have been training judo for seven years and I love it very much because it is a beautiful and fun sport."

UNICEF provides psychosocial support to children and adults who care for them.

Djevojke za vrijeme treninga
The children train hard every day.
Illia obožava džudo
Iliia loves judo and has big plans for the future.
Psihologinja Josipa Herceg

"They are doing well, although it is not easy for them to deal with this situation. The coaches take really good care of the children and are an important support for them. Here I was immediately greeted by a list of children who would like to talk to a psychologist, which I consider positive because they have sought help and know that we are here for them, ready to provide support."

Josipa Herceg, psychologist

They didn't expect to have a psychologist at their disposal, coach Radion said: "It's something new for us, the children go and talk to the psychologists. It’s good that this is provided for us."

The children worry about their family members who remained in Ukraine, Mariia is worried about missing proper education. Distance learning, especially in wartime conditions, cannot compensate for live teaching at school. She misses her family and friends:

"My family is safe; we talk every day. They don't tell me much about the situation there because they don't want me to worry and to be sad. We miss each other’s. I also miss my friends who are now scattered in different countries."

Despite the difficult situation and the war due to which these children had to leave their homes and are now separated from their loved ones, they dream for a bright future:

"There are many ideas and many plans. Maybe I would be a beautician. On the other hand, I want to go to higher education and maybe become a doctor," Mariia shared with us, and Iliia has no doubts. His dream is to train, become an Olympic champion and children's judo coach.