Tiny memories of home

Two years after the escalation of war, Ukrainian children who fled to Slovakia remember home through the objects they brought with them

UNICEF
Vera sits in front of her accomodation centre holding a class photo from Ukraine.
UNICEF/Le Lijour
26 February 2024

It's the end of March. The warmer sun and longer days start to chase the cold winds of winter away. You decide to embark on a spring cleaning, going through wardrobes and cabinets to organize your clothes' yearly change of guard.

You open a drawer, and you’re astonished by what you find underneath a pair of long, woolen socks: a little toy you played with as a child. It’s an amazing memory you had completely forgotten about. In a heartbeat, its sight throws you back to those days of cheerful playing and sweet snacks with classmates.

Everyone has heirlooms of a past time. For Ukrainian refugee children, these are symbols of a home without war.

Denis, 9 years old, from Dnipro

“It was New Year’s Eve, the one just before the war. I spent the day with my family in a playground, and when we got home my mom gave me this bunny. We celebrated the rest of the evening at home and barbequed shashlik on a fire outside.”

“I like this bunny because it’s soft and cuddly, and it reminds me of Ukraine.”

Denis smiles as he holds its toy bunny.
UNICEF/Le Lijour

Ruslam, 10 years old, from Kramatorsk

“My friend from kindergarten back home gave me this toy for my birthday when I turned four or five. We used to take long walks together and play. I miss him very much.”

“I don’t know why I chose to bring this toy to Slovakia, but when I look at it now, it reminds me of home.”

A toy fox held in Ruslam's hands.
UNICEF/Le Lijour

Ilona, 13 years old, from Kharkiv

“Last summer, my mom and I went back to Kharkiv to visit my grandma for her birthday. Being back home was wonderful; the only difference was the distant sound of bombings. Those were very scary.”

“One day, during the visit, my mom and I went shopping and she bought me this necklace with Ukraine’s shape. Looking at it, I remember my life before the war.”

Ilo
UNICEF/Le Lijour

Vera, 15 years old, from Kramatorsk

“This is a photo of my 7th grade classmates; my best friends are sitting next to me. One of them stayed in Kramatorsk, one is in Kyiv, and another one went abroad. My favourite part of school was the breaks because I spent them with my friends. Now, in Slovakia, I don’t have friends in school.”

“This photo makes me think of how wonderful it was before the war started.”

Vera's class photo from Ukraine.
UNICEF/Le Lijour

Vika, 12 years old, from Dnipro

“I love this octopus because of its colour; I was so happy when my mom bought it to me!”

“When we fled Ukraine, I didn’t manage to bring it with me. During the whole journey, I could not stop thinking of how one day I would come back home and play with it. Fortunately, they sent it to me with a parcel a couple of months after we arrived in Slovakia.”

Vika stands in a hallway, octopus toy in her hand.
UNICEF/Le Lijour

Haiane, 12 years old, from Odesa

“My mom and dad gave me this bracelet for my 10th birthday. I love it and always wear it during tests in school. I think it brings me luck and protection, because I always get good grades!”

Haiane's bracelet.
UNICEF/Le Lijour

Playing and remembering away from home

117,000 refugees from Ukraine – mostly women and children – continue to live in Slovakia two years after the escalation of war.

Children are always children: they continue to play, regardless of where they are. Yet, they all miss home deeply. The children of Ukraine need peace, now more than ever.

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