Ukraine, the war seen from the side of children - exclusive

Conflict destroys homes, crops, industries. And above all, bonds and affections. Those who can save themselves, but the men are forced to stay at home. And their little ones ask themselves: 'Where is my dad?'

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Seen from child's height, the war in Ukraine is the war of betrayal and abandonment. We have seen them, at border posts or exits from besieged cities, clinging desperately to the beards of men, crying and kicking, rebelling and claiming. Children who do not know how to speak, but seemed to ask, in the moment of greatest fear and flight, 'why do you, Dad, leave us here and leave us alone?'. There is a way and a way to tell a war to children. And it doesn't necessarily work - Photo | video

HOW TO EXPLAIN? - There is certainly no way to explain that martial law prohibits men of militia age from leaving the country, even if they are not soldiers. No child anywhere in the world can accept that the father must be separated, by law, from his offspring who run away chased by artillery fire. However, children should be told about the war. Not all in one breath like a sad tale. But one sensation at a time, day after day. And it is by following in the footsteps of this generation that we understand how the conflict has already caused a wound that will never be fully healed. The mothers try to explain that 'your dad is a hero', as Ilona repeated to her 3-year-old child after crossing the border with Moldova. 'He's a superhero who fights bad guys who want to take away our house and your games.' But no consolation could soothe the cry of that child as of many others.

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NO ONE LEAVES THE COUNTRY - They still try, and there are not a few, to escape from the country by violating the obligation to stay. Although the conflict has not yet led Kiev to forcibly enlist civilians, the meshes of the law that obliges men aged 18 to 60 not to leave the country are not being widened. And then we do our best. At the cost of passing for deserters and traitors, there are those who try to run away. Some images will remain etched in our memory for a long time. Like that man caught while trying to cross the border with his wife, baby son and her mother. To escape the controls, he had obtained the back seat of the station wagon a box full of soft toys, toys, rattles and diapers. He was hiding inside, crouched like an untrained contortionist. The gendarmes let the rest of the family continue the journey. The man was sent back and reported. Others try to escape from the country even asking acquaintances to 'lend' them a child. The obligation to stay, in fact, lapses for those who have at least three small mouths to feed.

'FOR RENT' CHILDREN - With the registry offices often devastated by bombings, it is impossible for the border police to reconstruct the identities of the children and the real ties with the adults who accompany them. 'Why are they here with their dad and not us?' A 4-year-old girl asked her mother in a refugee center in Iasi, Romania, who didn't know what to answer. Someone has smelled the deal and makes their fourth child available, preferably small and not of speaking age, to make some money by going through customs together with those who for a few hours 'rented' the child they needed to get the pass. Six months after the first explosion, there are still fathers who live hidden in the most remote farmhouses. Between hay bales and abandoned cattle. They won their war by saving their wife and children. They also tried to bribe the gendarmes, but there was nothing to be done. In June, a dozen customs officers ended up in jail for having rounded up their salaries by passing those who did not have the right to pass. Since then, there have also been few ploys left.

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THE WAR ON CHILDREN - When a war begins and you don't know when it will end, it happens that with the passing of the days, of the fighting, of the mourning, you forget how that conflict started and you hardly ever wonder why. Ryszard Kapuciski, a Polish war correspondent who even after his departure teaches the trade to the new generation of journalism, once wrote: “Many reporters obsessively take note of everything. When you re-read that crap you end up forgetting the best things. What matters is not the things, but the meaning of things. In this sense, I believe that memory is an extraordinary selection mechanism. The important things are those that are deeply impressed in the mind ». It is also for this reason that we must listen to the children's war. Which is also a war on children.

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LESSONS ON THE PC, AS WITH THE PANDEMIC - Through them we can glimpse a hope for the after. Or understand the long wave of a tragedy that will not end when someone signs a peace treaty. In a few days some schools will reopen, others will not. Because there is still shooting around, or because the building is no longer there. Some teachers had found ways to keep the classes together even if they were many borders away. Ukrainian schoolchildren had already experienced it during the two years of the pandemic. And it is now due to their teachers, many of whom have remained in the country, if the school program can go on. Most have no books with them. But thanks to technology we can make up for it. In Chisinau, in a house run by the Catholic diocese, children meet at breakfast time. The English teacher contacts them from Odessa. Tablets and mobile phones become the tools not only to teach, but to keep the school group together. There are those who connect from Italy, some from France, or Spain, many are in Romania and some have remained in Ukraine, perhaps escaped to a country house where it is hoped that the missiles have no reason to be fired. . The children spend the first few minutes wondering how things are going, if they have found toys in their new life as little refugees. They haven't lost their smile, but it's full of melancholy. There is a question that everyone asks. The usual: 'Have you heard from your dad?' The teachers try to change the subject. The repercussions of the conflict have affected '5.7 million children of school age', according to a UN note dated 19 August. With a warning: 'The ability to learn is severely impaired by acute and continuing exposure to trauma related to conflict and psychological stress'. This would be enough to let the children tell the war. Provided that someone, among the 'great' of this conflict, is willing to listen to them and to answer that question: 'Do you have news of my dad?'.