Growing up between hopes and fears in Avdiivka

Children tell how conflict in eastern Ukraine affected their lives in one minute videos

Chris Schuepp
Two girls are on their way to school in village Myronivskyi, Donetsk region, 18 May 2016. The wall of the building is covered with shrapnel.
UNICEF Ukraine/2016/Schuepp
17 July 2017

Avdiivka, Ukraine, 17 June 2017 - The 9-storey apartment building on Molodizhna Street #20 in Avdiivka has become a countrywide symbol for the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The façade features a mural created in 2016 by Australian artist Guido van Helten. The mural shows the face of the local teacher Marina Marchenko, fearlessly looking south towards Donetsk and the line of conflict that separates Avdiivka from the non-government controlled areas.

Looking over the fields at the southern tip of the city, you can see the remains of Donetsk International Airport from the upper floors of house #20. However, the façade of the building does not only stand out because of the impressive mural, but also for the countless bullet holes and several massive holes and marks where shells hit the now dysfunctional apartment building.

Dina Nadel

Childhood lost

18-year-old Dina grew up here. She used to live on the 3rd floor and spent her afternoons in the playground behind the apartment block. Then in 2014, at the age of 15, Dina’s childhood ended with the first shelling. She and her family had to move further away from the line of conflict and away from the immediate vicinity of the airport where every evening and every night you can hear the sounds of war, even today, three years after it all started.

But Dina stayed in Avdiivka, she learns welding at the local vocational school and participated in The One Minutes Jr. workshop at “Vulik” (“Beehive”), a UNICEF-supported youth club, with 13 other participants. Usually every participant produces one 60-second film, but Dina managed to do two films. In one of them, she shows the viewers around house #20 on Molodizhna Street, in the other one she explains the sounds that you can hear every night even in the centre of the city.

Dina Nadel

Time to hide

The first time we heard shelling, everybody was panicking. We had no idea what was being fired, from where to where and what the implications could be. Now we can distinguish between outgoing fire and incoming fire.


“We can even tell the calibre used most of the time. It’s not so scary anymore. Only when hear that one very special whistling sound, then you know: It’s time to hide!” says Dina.

For Danil, 12, the conflict also literally came to his very doorsteps. Next to the small house where he lives with his younger sister and his parents, just past the children’s playground, heavy artillery was placed for several weeks. During this time, Danil and his family spent several nights and many hours during the evenings in the basement, because the outgoing artillery was answered by shelling from afar, hitting civilian houses in Avdiivka. The shed behind Danil’s house was hit, the roof has still not been repaired, but fortunately Danil and his family were not at home at the time this happened.

Distant sounds

The artillery was moved further away, first down the road towards the garages near the old railway tracks where you can still see burned out cars in destroyed buildings. Danil’s family and their neighbours could now sleep a lot more peaceful than before, despite the daily sounds of guns and artillery that violate the silence of the night.

Danilo Savkevich

Up until the beginning of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, Avdiivka could be considered a suburb of Donetsk, the biggest city in the region with more than a million inhabitants. Thousands of people have left because of the constant shelling and the uncertain future and those who are still here are struggling to survive. At the height of the conflict, the population was down to about 5,000, but because the big coking factory in Avdiivka still employs almost 4,000 people, some people have already returned and are getting used to the challenging life in the city.

Suspended traffic and lost connections

Before the conflict, the trip to Donetsk city centre by bus would cost the locals in Avdiivka 5 UAH (about .20 USD) and would take not more than 20 minutes. Today, families who are separated by the so-called “conflict line” have to take a huge detour via one of the few open crossing points from the government-controlled areas to the non-government controlled areas and vice versa. The trip from Avdiivka to Donetsk, 10 kilometres, now takes three hours in the best case when everything goes well at the checkpoint and will cost about 350 UAH, seventy times more than a few years ago. However, people have also reported that they had to spend the night at the crossing points, turning a trip that should take 20 minutes into a 12-hour odyssey.

For the children in Avdiivka this also means that access to entertainment and sports facilities is now extremely limited. The famous swimming pool Aquasferra in Donetsk is out of reach, cinemas and shopping malls that exist in Donetsk and that all could be reached in less than half an hour several years ago are off-limits. The old Rubin Cinema is Avdiivka is closed, nobody really seems to know where the nearest swimming pool is and the Donbass Arena, opened in 2009 when local heroes FC Shakhtar Donetsk won the UEFA Cup, is also not on the weekend list for the people of Avdiivka anymore. Furthermore, Shakhtar first moved the whole team to Lviv to continue playing in the Ukrainian Premier League and have now settled in the Metalist stadium in Kharkiv for their home games, 300 kilometres away from Avdiivka.

Nikita Novgorodsev

Safe environment for kids

The youth club “Vulik” is one of the few in Avdiivka places where both children and teenagers can go to these days. It is run by locals with support from UNICEF Ukraine and gives the young generation of Avdiivka a safe environment to play, learn and acquire new skills.

Ivan Gorb, the “Vulik” administrator, always has an open ear for the young people who come to the club. “We want to make them feel welcome here. We want to give them a peaceful place in the afternoons when they are done with school or during vacation times like now. After all, Avdiivka has always been a very quiet place. When there is no shelling, that is,” Gorb says with the trademark smile on his face.

UNICEF Ukraine organizes a series of 10 The One Minutes Jr. video workshops in 2017 to improve youth engagement in five regions of eastern Ukraine (Donetsk, Luhansk, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhie). The workshops are held at some of the 15 UNICEF-supported youth clubs which were established with financial support from the German government through KfW (Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau).

Playlist to all 13 films from Avdiivka: