A lifetime under fire for seven year old in eastern Ukraine

As the conflict in eastern Ukraine reaches the seven-year mark, one young girl prepares to go to school for the very first time.

UNICEF
A girl from the Ukraine stands outside her home
UNICEF Ukraine
01 September 2021

Vika is getting ready for her first day at school. In September, she will turn seven – her seventh birthday since the conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine.

      - “Mom, do you hear the shooting again?” she asks her mother, Anna.

      - “Yes. It’s just like Winnie the Pooh,” Anna replies. “Boo! Are you scared?

      - “No,” says Vika. “Because you are next to me!”

UNICEF Ukraine
UNICEF Ukraine
UNICEF Ukraine
UNICEF Ukraine

Holding her mother’s hand, Vika pays no attention to the distant sounds of mortars as they walk to the schoolyard. Here, in the town of Avdiivka, near the contact line, armed clashes have been going on for several years.

UNICEF Ukraine
UNICEF Ukraine
UNICEF Ukraine
UNICEF Ukraine

“This will be my school,” exclaims Vika, as they approach a one-story whitewashed building with a playground. “In September, I will go here to study!”

Shooting can be heard in the distance, but nothing phases Vika. This is the only life she has ever known – one filled with shooting, landmines and explosions.

“I was born when there was a war,” the girl explains, matter-of-factly.

UNICEF Ukraine
UNICEF Ukraine
UNICEF Ukraine
UNICEF Ukraine

According to UN, from April 2014 to 31 January 2021, over 13,000 people died as a result of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. At least, as many as 148 of them were children.

Born under fire

Anna often tells Vika the story of her birth, which has become something of a family legend.

UNICEF Ukraine
UNICEF Ukraine

Vika was born in the nearby city of Donetsk, where Anna felt things would be safer.

“But it turned out that I came under even more serious shelling,” recalls Anna. “I gave birth to the sound of clashes. And when I had finished giving birth, such a strong explosion thundered that all the windows were smashed by a blast wave. And I only just managed to cover Vika from shrapnel.”

When Anna returned to Avdiivka with her newborn daughter, the shelling was so intense that she often had to nurse Vika in the basement. For long periods, they were left without electricity and heating. Later, after a shell hit the corner of their house, smashing the windows and destroying part of the wall, the family decided to move in with relatives.

However, as the financial and humanitarian situation worsened, Anna often had to choose between buying food for the children or basic household necessities, like soap.

“Those were difficult times,” says Anna, sadly.

A new start

When a fragile truce was temporary achieved in eastern Ukraine, the family decided to return to their home. Now, at last, Anna’s eldest daughter is able to go to school.

“This is a good school,” Anna says, happily. “And it’s steps from our house, Vika will be able to go there by foot."

At the beginning of the armed conflict, in 2014-2015, the school building was damaged by shelling. Today, the school has been renovated, the yard smells of fresh paint and the teachers are ready to welcome the new first graders.

UNICEF Ukraine
UNICEF Ukraine

Vika is excited to study and make her dreams come true.

“I want to go to school because I want to become a teacher,” she says.

Here, so close to the contact line, school is not just an exciting new stage in Vika’s life. It is also the promise of a calmer, brighter future.

Still, Anna worries that an escalation of hostilities may destroy her daughter's hopes.

“Recently, they began to shoot actively again, especially in the late afternoon,” says Anna, who will not allow her children go for a walk in the evenings. “It gets loud.”

Vika's home is just a few short bus stops away from the contact line.

“If they start shooting hard, we’ll run away again,” adds her mother. “But we really hope for peace. I would like not to be afraid, not to run, but just to breathe deeply.”

With the financial support from the European Union, UNICEF continues to work with the Government of Ukraine to mobilize its partners and stakeholders to make schools for children and teachers safe and to help fully implement the Safe School Declaration in Ukraine.

Funded by the European Union, UNICEF is working with partners across eastern Ukraine to provide support to educational facilities so that repairs can be made to damaged schools and kindergartens, and education supplies, such as educational kits, furniture and sport equipment, can be replaced. In addition, UNICEF and partners provide much-needed counselling, psychosocial support to hundreds of thousands of children, youth and caregivers affected by the conflict.

UNICEF Ukraine
UNICEF Ukraine

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