At the side of the road and surrounded by rubble, Lisa Shtanko accompanies the passage of Ukrainian soldiers, who always have a gift for children who, like them, live in the chaos of war. Wearing a neon pink coat, she has a cheerful tone that doesn’t hide her fear.
Lisa is 8 years old and has bright blue eyes. He lives with his parents in a roadside house at the entrance to Lyman, a town in devastated eastern Ukraine surrounded by mined forests.
The area was recaptured by Ukrainian forces in October after four months of Russian occupation. But the war goes on, as evidenced by a bomb that fell near her home.
In conversation, Lisa takes turns commenting on the soldiers’ gifts, the explosion that woke her up, her mother’s meal, and the piece of shrapnel that pierced the front door. “I’m not in a good mood today because of the bombings,” he apologizes
Viktor, Lisa’s father, looks at her tenderly. “Of course she’s scared. There is nothing more terrifying than lurking death,” says the 42yearold electrician, who presented his daughter with a toy donated by a humanitarian organization for Christmas
There are almost no children in Lyman, and most of the remaining neighbors are elderly. Many families who have fled “have no reason to go back,” says Kostia Korovkin, father of a 6yearold girl named Nastia, who is hiding behind him. The man says they have nowhere to go
With no friends to play with, Nastia spends her days between the basement and the street, sometimes hanging out with the neighborhood dogs. He also occasionally goes to the 6th floor of the building, the only spot where internet is available, to follow a class.
Cellar in Bachmut
In Bakhmut the war does not abate. The city is one of the frontline hotspots in eastern Ukraine. Russian artillery shells it constantly, and Ukrainian soldiers describe it as “hell on earth.”
“Hi, I’m Gleb.” In a basement where nearly 20 people have lived for eight months, a seriousfaced 14yearold teenager with shaved hair and an earring shakes hands firmly with visitors. He’s the only minor since all the other kids left
He spends most of the boy’s days in the basement. He goes to bed late, helps the elderly and takes care of the black cat, who has also taken refuge in space, where the sound of explosions echoes. “I’ve learned to recognize the incoming and outgoing gunshots,” says Gleb, whose biggest dream is “to go for a walk with a friend.”
To pass the time, he draws. He also reads or plays games on his cell phone when there is electricity. “I don’t think about the future because I don’t know what’s going to happen in an hour or two or tomorrow,” he explains.
Hundreds of children are trapped in Bakhmut because their parents cannot or do not want to leave the city. “These children are already grown,” says Katherine Soldierova, a volunteer for an association that has set up shelters in a school’s basement
“You are in a situation of constant uncertainty. The world can betray them at any moment, everything can be destroyed in a second,” explains psychologist Alyona Lukianchuk from the Ukrainian organization SOS Children’s Villages. “The difficult thing is that the parents are also stressed and focused on surviving,” he adds.
This chronic stress “impairs the ability to concentrate and cognitive resources”, which can lead to serious disorders in the medium and long term, emphasizes the psychologist, who despite everything does not want to speak of a lost generation