When a book falls on the floor, the children jump out of fright. Child-friendly spaces will help Ukrainian children forget the war

Child-friendly spaces are helping Ukrainian children forget the war. Photo: Lenka Blahova, People in Need

“This is the happiest day of my whole life!” Nikita, a first grader, runs ahead of the crowd to the room opening, which everyone in the village was talking about recently. Today, all the children from the village of Novobahmutovka, living next to the frontline and active hostilities, have the same feeling.

In the first year of the war, in the autumn children and parents were told that the school and the kindergarten were closed for security reasons. “We have a very large village and we all live in different parts of it. We cannot see each other and study like children of our age must do,” Nastya, a serious eighth grader, admits. “Parents begged us to work with pupils. Although the teachers did not get paid, we understood that we cannot abandon children. The school staff decided to teach them once a week on the premises of the village administration,” Galina Vasilievna, the head teacher, recalls.

“One day, when the shelling began in the afternoon, I ran inside the kindergarten. The nannies hid children in the bathroom on mattresses.”

The kids knew what to do during shelling

The school and the kindergarten opened six months later, but the classes were still accompanied by the sound of shooting and explosions. “One day, when the shelling began in the afternoon, I ran inside the kindergarten. The nannies hid children in the bathroom on mattresses. The most surprising was that the kids knew what to do! Soon we brought them some buns with compote and they forgot about everything,” says Galina Vasilievna. “For all that, the atmosphere of recent years affects the children a lot. Sometimes, when a book falls on the floor, they jump up of fright,” Natalia Nikolaevna, the teacher of elementary grades, adds.

Photo: Lenka Blahova, People in Need

And now, after experiencing three years of war in rural isolation from any sort of entertainment and quality psychosocial services these children will be able to express themselves through creativity and relaxation in the playroom, which was created by People in Need (PIN) with support of UK Aid.

Trampoline, lego or volleyball net brings sense of normalcy

It is a spacious place with a bunch of toys, table games, materials for creativity and even a puppet theater. “I like ball pool! And I like the trampoline! I like the Lego and the building kit! I like to play sea battle,” children are screaming in one voice, running around. Older students can practice handcrafting here or just have a rest after the class. There are many kinds of activities for 40 schoolchildren and 15 kids from the kindergarten; they even have a volleyball net and tennis table now.

Photo: Lenka Blahova, People in Need

“Since the rooms were opened, it is our duty to care for them. PIN’s Protection Team is visiting them at least once per month with psychosocial support trainings for teachers and other relevant employees, conducting individual consultations and group events for children and adults or bringing some new educational toys and learning games,” says Marina Petrenko, PIN’s Protection Programme Manager.

12 child-friendly spaces to ease the life of children

Altogether 12 child-friendly spaces in and outside schools were already opened to serve eastern Ukraine’s frontline children. During the project which was also focused on access to long-term psychosocial support for children in total 1,748 children from the front-line territory have access to an additional opportunity to develop cognitive abilities, training in game activities, socialization and forming or increasing capability for recovery after or during military conflict.

Photo: Lenka Blahova, People in Need

“We wish to create an additional space for children, helping them to organize themselves and stabilize their mental health,” Marina says and explains that in rural conditions, especially near the frontline, the education system is limited in the amount of teachers and psychologists, resources, and capacities, and therefore needs such comprehensive assistance.

“But the children, the ultimate beneficiaries, should not think about these complexities; the most important is that they come to school with pleasure now,” Marina Petrenko adds.

Maria Lozan, PIN Ukraine Communication Officer