”Here in Donetsk people die every day,” says Nikita. He will take us to a town not far from where the Russian soldiers are shooting their rockets and throwing their grenades. We pass destroyed homes, a school in ruins, and a local hospital that just recently was bombed. I meet Marko here. Inside a dimly lit church, twenty children are waiting expectantly for our visit. Some of the mothers are waiting with them. The children we meet have never in their lives experienced peace. For them, the war with Russia started already in 2014. Since then, there has been constant conflict. Ukraine says they belong to Ukraine, and Russia says they belong to them. The children don’t know who they belong to. All they know is that they wake up to gunshots and go to bed to the sound of explosions. Here people die every day.
Marko is five and not like other five-year-olds I have met. Walking right up to me he starts talking in a language I don’t understand all the while using his fingers to make signs. It seems like he is not registering what is happening around him. After a few minutes, he climbs into my lap and wants to be held. I put my arms around him and feel his little body relax. He sits on my lap, observing the other children in the room. Calm now.
We talk about our feelings. Do they ever feel sad, scared, angry, happy, or lonely? What does it feel like? We help them describe their emotions with colors, red is angry, blue is sad, and green is for feeling fine. I pull out the Novi Life Kit and ask the children if they want to see what is inside. They do. Marko gets to help me and peeks inside before the rest. Dice! He sees the two dice and smiles big. He holds them in his hands, feels them, and moves his fingers across the edges of the dice. Nothing else is interesting for him.
The other kids, however, are curious. We take out the bottle of bubbles and try to blow big bubbles while taking a deep breath. We play with the beach ball. How long can we keep it in the air while passing it to one another? The kids squeal. Marko jumps down from my lap and wants to join the others. He doesn’t understand the rules and thinks he needs to keep the ball if he catches it.
There are 20 children in the room, and we detect at least three with speech impediments. Some others are quiet and find it challenging to engage in the games. Two boys look hostile like they think we are disrupting their lives. All these behaviors are signs of stress or trauma.
At the end of our time, the children get a Life Kit each. We have showed them how to play and included the parents in the lesson. A booklet also describes the games in case they forget. The Life Kit is full of trauma-informed activities developed by our staff and our psychologist leading the efforts. The aim is that children will play the activities independently or with friends for as long as they can. As they play, their feelings will be regulated, making it easier for them to live.
They receive their Life Kit packs, put them on their backs and march outside to a world where children get shot at. They cannot stop the war with the Russians. But a Life Kit may help them stop the war that is raging inside them. Marko waves as he walks away.
Novi is currently distributing Life Kits in areas of conflict all over Ukraine. We aim to train adult caregivers to engage with the children as they use the kits. Along with the Life Kits, we continue to teach adults to care for children living in conflict. We also support local groups in distributing food and other essentials to people living in severe poverty.
I have a request for you. Would you consider buying one or more Life Kits? Without help, we cannot distribute these kits to those who need them now. With your support, we can keep helping children like Marko.
Join our efforts to get as many in circulation as possible. And when you do, write a note in the donation form that our Ukrainian team will translate and enclose in the kit you buy.
Here is an idea: You can pay for a kit, then write a note to the child who will receive it. We will have it translated into Ukrainian so the child can understand your message. It may be a comfort for a child to know that somebody across the world is thinking of them.
Hanna is from Kharkiv. Last week, she went back to her war-torn home.
When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out, ‘Stop!’