Ukraine: “Children are facing many issues in Europe’s forgotten war”
It’s already four years since the conflict in Eastern Ukraine started. Although it is less present in the news, the situation is far from resolved. More than 54,000 children live in areas where the sound of shootings and bombs is a part of their reality, observes Nikita Kovchuga, Tdh Child Protection Field Officer in Ukraine. An interview.
How do you personally live the crisis?
Two years ago I had a choice. To stay in Spain after my social internship or to come back to my home country, Ukraine, which was facing the second year of war in my native region – Donbass. I had chosen to come back. I couldn’t step aside from what was happening in my homeland. I felt like I have to do something to level the consequences of the horrible events that were happening. Even though there were moments when my life was in danger, when I had to hide in the basement because of shelling, when bullets were falling near my legs during cross-fire, I have remained dedicated to my mission.
Can you describe the current situation in the country?
As hopes of a political solution have waned, so have people’s savings and their ability to cope. Four years into the crisis, millions of people, including 1.6 million internally displaced persons are forced to make impossible choices between food, medicine, shelter, heating or their children’s education.
According to the United Nations Development Program, about 60 percent of Ukrainians live below the poverty line. 4.4 million people are affected by the crisis, most of whom require humanitarian assistance. The shelling affects the majority of the people living along the 457-kilometre ‘contact line’ regularly.
What are the main challenges for children?
Children are facing many issues in Europe’s forgotten war. There are thousands of children who live in places with monthly and weekly shelling. Hundreds of them are forced to spend substantial time in makeshift bomb shelters. According to the 2017 UNICEF report “Children of the contact line in East Ukraine”, psychological distress among children remains one of the main issues in Eastern Ukraine.
How is Tdh helping them?
We have been supporting children and youth with psychological and social activities since 2015. Last year, we provided child-friendly spaces in 75 schools and five professional highschools in Luhansk region. Each of them is furnished with board games, books, and materials for play, creative work and sports. Tdh also trained teachers, who carried out recreational activities with more than 7000 children.
As we work in a protracted crisis context, these spaces and activities are extremely important for children. This helps them release tension and reduce feelings of fear, isolation and depression, build caring relationships, confidence and a positive outlook on life. By reinforcing their inner resources and their environment, we guarantee them better protection.
What motivates you in your job?
The position of Child Protection Field Officer is a challenge. But when I am in the field and see how children play and smile, what energy they have, it seems like they really forget what is going on around them. That is why I am so proud to do this work.
In 2017, Terre des hommes continued to provide psychosocial support, reaching more than 7000 conflict-affected children and their families in Luhansk region. The work on improving the emotional and social well-being of children and youth in this region carries on in 2018.
Nikita Kovchuga, Tdh Child Protection Field Officer in Ukraine
Photo credit: ©Tdh