BUCHAREST, 28th April — Tanks, helicopters, dead bodies, and their homes. Children fleeing Ukraine have shown the devastating impact that the conflict is having on their mental health in a series of drawings released on Thursday by Save the Children as the war entered its ninth week.
These drawings are published as the latest data shows that over 750,000 refugees have crossed the Romanian border since 24 February. The UN estimates that over 5 million people — including 2.8 million children – have left Ukraine since the escalation of the conflict.
As the first of millions of families from Ukraine began crossing the border into Romania, Save the Children set up a child friendly space in Bucharest’s largest train station which thousands of refugees pass through each day.
The safe space is a carefully designed soft play area full of toys, games and drawing stations. These rooms are specifically designed to give children the chance to be children again after harrowing journeys, leaving behind their homes, often families, and friends.
Expert staff, including psychologists and child protection experts, run the space and provide psychological support, including drawing and play activities to help children process their experiences.
Staff said the first drawings by children on the move highlighted the trauma they were facing.
Hilda*, 12, sketched a crying woman dressed in the colours of Ukrainian flag alongside a faceless grey soldier and bombs falling from a plane.
Another child used a red crayon to label himself leaving his home as an unidentified object fell from the sky. Another child drew two tanks rolling across the page. Whilst another drew two women, one lying on the ground.
Nearly two thirds of the 7.5 million children in Ukraine have fled their homes since the conflict escalated over two months ago. Of these displaced children, 2.3 million still remain inside Ukraine. More than 500 children have been killed or injured in nine weeks of war.
Alongside drawings documenting the horrors of war, children arriving in Bucharest from Ukraine drew pictures of their homes and images symbolising their arrival in Romania.
Maryska*, 8, entwined the Ukrainian and Romanian flags, with hearts and messages of support celebrating the camaraderie between the two countries. Whilst Arterm* and Marynia* drew two flag-coloured hearts holding hands.
Save the Children Romania’s CEO, Gabriela Alexandrescu said:
“Thousands of families from Ukraine are passing through Bucharest North train station every day. Parents are arriving exhausted and emotional while children are initially very reserved and quiet. We are running a playground in our child friendly space here so parents can rest and get access to the basics like food, water, translated information and hygiene items while their children are playing in a safe environment and can start to recover.”
Save the Children Psychologist, Esperanza Leal Gil said:
“These drawings show children expressing their feelings about what they have experienced during the last nine weeks. Many children arriving in our child friendly space in Bucharest are overwhelmed and terrified and they do not know how to express these emotions. These thoughts can be very confusing and difficult for children to process. The reaction of the child depends on the age, but the most common emotions they may feel after experiencing conflict and displacement are fear of being harmed, or of being left alone, they may also feel sadness, guilt, anger, or helplessness at what has happened. These are normal reactions to this kind of abnormal situation. The most important thing is offering children a safe and secure space where they can express their fears and worries. Drawing and play therapy helps children to release their stress and anxiety. Children in Ukraine are seeing things that no child should ever have to see. Every war is a war against children.”
As well as the child friendly space at Bucharest North station, Save the Children has set up more safe spaces and emergency distribution tents at border crossings, transportation hubs, and reception centres in Romania, Poland, and Lithuania.
Save the Children is working through local partners in Ukraine to provide shelter, food, cash, fuel, psychosocial support, baby, and hygiene kits to displaced families. Save the Children has been operating in Ukraine since 2014, delivering essential humanitarian aid to children and their families.
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