Ukraine’s new Spilno spot helps children to rest and recharge
UNICEF, together with the ‘Eastern Ukrainian diaspora’ organisation, has launched a Spilno Child Spot in Dnipro
The new Spilno Child Spot in Dnipro, Ukraine is a hive of activity. In one corner, a father is playing football with his two sons. In another, a group of children are drawing rabbits, while a separate group shoots video with a smartphone.
Most of these families have come to Dnipro after fleeing the violence in Bakhmut.
One of the children, nine-year-old Zakhar, does not fully understand the meaning of the word "war". All he can do is repeatedly ask his mother, Dasha, what happened. This is the second time he and his family have been forced from their home, after fleeing the violence in eastern Ukraine for Odesa in 2014.
In Dnipro, schools and kindergartens are closed due to the frequent lack of heating, electricity and communication. But at the Spilno Child Spot, run by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and partners, Zakhar and scores of other children can find the haven they urgently need.
“We're returning to them the feeling of normalcy”
"Here, a child can remember what normal childhood is,” says Maria Artanova, a Humanitarian Crisis Response Specialist at the UNICEF office in Dnipro. “It's like we're returning to them the feeling of normalcy. These children had to flee their homes, leaving their schools, friends or even families.”
In just a few hours, Zakhar has made friends with seven-year-old Dania, who also came here from Bakhmut. Their mothers have also found a connection.
"I have an 11-month-old daughter at home," says Anastasia, Dania's mother. "We went to Dnipro when she was only two and a half months old. We realized that even though we could stay in the basement, she wouldn't."
Dania’s father is a policeman who still lives in Bakhmut. Sometimes he comes to Dnipro to visit his family, but it has been hard for the family to adjust. To help Dania settle in, Anastasia takes him to every class she can find.
“It's so noisy and fun”
To create the Spilno Child Spot, UNICEF teamed up with the local ‘Eastern Ukrainian Diaspora’ organisation, which was launched by 29-year-old Artem Sabayev. He himself is twice displaced – first from Donetsk and now from Bakhmut.
Artem’s initial intention had been to form a small organisation to help his friends but it grew quickly to help 10,000 families from the Donetsk region. He dreamed of building a centre that offered psycho-emotional support for families – now, with the Spilno Child Spot, UNICEF has helped to make it happen.
"We just opened today, so it's so noisy and fun. We meet animators and we create Tiktoks. In the future, there will be an educational class, courses in digital literacy, video blogging, English courses, daily creative workshops, group classes offering psycho-emotional support to children and their parents, and individual psychological assistance.”
Artem knows how difficult it can be for children to adjust. Many arrive with no friends or acquaintances, and lack communication. Spilno fills this gap.
Air raid siren that sounds for real
Serhiy, 41, and his two sons, six-year-old Dima and two-year-old Yarik, have been among the families enjoying the new centre. They lost everything in the Luhanska region, including Serhiy’s business and their home. Along with his wife, he spent a month and a half with the boys in a cold basement.
"My home village doesn't exist anymore,” Serhiy says, sadly. “It's about to be destroyed. They burned it completely. Rubizhne, Severodonetsk and Lysychansk used to be paradise in the Luhanska region, but now they are hell.”
Dima used to hide in a corner of the basement when he heard loud explosions. In Dnipro, he continues to do the same.
"When I was his age, I lived in the USSR," says Serhiy. "I remember how we heard a training alarm on the radio. That was a training siren. But it terrified me a lot anyway, so my mom embraced me tightly. I cannot imagine what Dima feels when he hears real explosions."
Almost 60,000 beneficiaries visiting Spilno Child Spots every month, including 55 winterized spots supported by UNICEF and implementing partners that provide integrated services for children, youth and caregivers.