Amid war, Kyiv volunteers help children to forget fears
Free creative classes for children and teenagers are taking place in Kyiv, run by volunteers from the UNICEF-supported charity Dobrodii Club.
For children, the war in Ukraine has taken away so many of the things that brought happiness – home, school, games, clubs, friends and even family.
To help restore the joys of childhood, volunteers in Kyiv are conducting free weekly creative classes for children, with the support of UNICEF. So far, they have conducted more than 70 classes for over 750 children.
Ella, 22, is one of the volunteers who have been helping to run the initiative since April. Like her peers, she has received training and consultations from a psychologist, and now engages the children in art classes and games.
“I just feel like I belong to this place and I have to be here,” says Ella, who is studying to become a lawyer and has remained in Kyiv through the fighting. “All the time in Kyiv I was quite calm, I did not feel fear. On the contrary, it seemed that leaving would cause me more stress. I felt that I needed to be here, because I am much more needed here than in any other city.”
Ella understands the importance of play and creativity for children.
She also appreciates how difficult it is for parents during crises like this – in addition to caring for the safety and well-being of their children, they must also take care of their own emotional and psychological needs.
The creative classes not only give children a chance to make friends and play, but also offer adults the opportunity to take a breath.
The war in Ukraine is having a devastating impact on the country’s 7.5 million children. Scores continue to be killed, wounded and traumatized by the violence all around them. Families are terrified, in shock and desperate for safety.
With the violence ongoing, safety always comes first. During classes, when the air raid siren sounds, everybody must go down to the bomb shelter.
“The most difficult thing is to refuse and send everyone to the shelter when you see how enthusiastic the children come to class,” says Ella. “During air raid sirens, children act like adults, do not ask questions, gather quickly, hold hands and go to the bomb shelter together. You know, the children we work with are very strong. I see how they hold up, sometimes even better than adults. They support their parents when they get discouraged.”
Ella says the children have taught her a lot.
“I believe the truth is in simple things,” she says. “Children give me energy, they always have non-standard thinking. I have fun when I spend time with them.”
She has also found support and inspiration in volunteering.
“It is probably their sincerity that captivates the most. They work so attentively and passionately, I immediately start feeling warm at heart. Adults have a completely different perception of reality, often imitate certain emotions, sometimes they smile because it is necessary. With children, it is totally opposite – everything is honest and genuine.”
Around 30 per cent of the children who attend the classes are displaced and Ella can see how the war has affected their well-being.
“Children who survived occupation or were in the cities during heavy air strikes are like adults. You can easily notice it. They don’t seem to have any childlike spontaneity, they are calm, very balanced.”
Ella hopes she can take some of the children’s warmth and positivity forward with her in her own life.
“I dream of meeting all my friends in Kyiv and just walking around the city,” she says, with a sigh. “Walking through all our places.”
A schedule of classes for the “Together. Meeting Point” project are available on the Telegram channel https://t.me/dozvillya_kyiv.