Childhood under attack
Blog by Natalka, 16 years old, displaced from frontline Shyrokyne. Her blog is a story of childhood, devastated by armed conflict
In the seaside village of Shyrokyne in eastern Ukraine, there are no locals left and no buildings undamaged. Before the armed conflict, some 2,000 residents lived here. Now, after residents were evicted due to shelling in 2015, the road to Shyrokyne has been closed and it has become the only village on the contact line with no civilians.
The last time Natalka, a resident of Shyrokyne, saw her house was when she was 11. At the time, she thought she was leaving home for a couple of weeks. But the forced departure lasted six years. Natalka was not able to see her school friends again until the age of 16, and only then in UNICEF photos and videos that humanitarian workers had captured in the village.
Natalka is a creative person, who loves historical literature and poetry. In her own words, this is the story of her childhood, which was seriously affected by the armed conflict.
The ashes were the only thing 2014 brought to our streets.
The war came to us, and happiness is no more than a ghost from my dreams.
“I often think about how my life would have turned out if our family had stayed in Shyrokyne. I think it would be a happy life. I would have friends.
Now my sister, brothers, parents and grandparents live in Mariupol. We rent a house and I go to school. But I still miss my friends and the school in Shyrokyne.
I can close my eyes and remember my class. It was to the left of the hallway from the main entrance. I loved looking out the window at the schoolyard, where there were trees, shrubbery and birds singing. And from the second floor of the school, I could see the sea.
I remember how happy I was when the teachers took us to swim at physical education classes. The walk from the school to the sea only took 15 minutes. Now there are only ruins along this road.
When the bell rang for a break, we immediately ran outside, played, ran around, and came up with our own games. And I still remember how we found a wounded bird and the whole class tried to help it.
One winter, water spilled from a water tower near the school and froze in waves. It was as beautiful as a winter fairy tale! Our physical education teacher took our photos against the background of ice and snow. I am sorry that I can’t show you these photos, they were burned in the shelling.
When I think of school, it seems like we always had holidays. We used to make gifts for our parents and we used to read poems. Before the winter holidays, I trained a lot in the school dance club. But somehow it turned out that I was always sick on the New Year holidays. So I never got to dance a snowflake dance at my school.
The most vivid memory of our dining room is how my friends and I were allowed to cook dumplings ourselves. Our teachers said they were delicious. I don’t remember if they really were tasty, but we were so proud that we cooked like adults.
At the end of the fourth grade, we all wrote our wishes for the future. Our teacher collected them in a jar and promised to give them to us when we graduate. But, sadly, that never happened.
Why do adults and children suffer all the time?
We travel around different cities, trying to find our way.
I learned about the beginning of the war on 1 September 2014. That was the first time I saw tanks on the streets of our village. I was very scared when I heard the first explosions. My dad was repairing something in the yard, and I thought he had just dropped something huge. But then my brother ran into the house shouting that the shelling had begun.
We hid in the basement for a while. And then they told our parents that we needed to leave. I remember collecting my things. I had favourite toys that I put in my most beautiful handbag.
I wanted to pack my notebooks with my first little poems. But the evacuation started suddenly and we were not ready for it. Mom left home in a robe and slippers. We only took our official documents with us. That’s why I don’t have photos from my childhood or photos from my first day at school. They all burned.
2015 was the last time I was home. I used to be very sad and angry. It’s so unfair – people should be able to live in their home and to school, but I don’t have it, not even photos or memories. Now I’m trying to come to terms with it.
Our hearts are full of sadness. We have no home; the night is black.
I remember saying to myself, “Believe me! In couple of weeks you’ll be back.”
Now I am graduating from school and learning foreign languages. I love poetry, literature and history, I also love children. So I think I’ll become a teacher.
As someone who loves history, I am saddened to learn that all the documents about the history of our village were destroyed. They were in the school, and our hopes were destroyed along with them.
When the war affects children’s lives, it’s awful. After all, everyone grows up with dreams. And the war takes them away and destroys the future. Children should not be victims of conflict.
This year, I will receive my graduation certificate in Mariupol, so I will never again sit at a desk in my old school. But for me, my childhood in Shyrokyne will forever remain in my heart as a memory. If I become a teacher in the future, I very much hope that I will work in a peaceful and safe school. Because no school in the world deserves to be destroyed.”
Since the beginning of the conflict, over 750 educational institutions on both sides of the contact line have been damaged by the hostilities and many more have suffered disruption to education. Across eastern Ukraine, UNICEF and partners provide psychosocial support and mine risk education to hundreds of thousands of children, youth and caregivers. UNICEF also supports repairs to damaged schools and kindergartens and vital water and sanitation facilities.