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“The feeling of constant danger transforms us”

Photo: Photo provided by Valeriia Vdovichenko Valeriia Vdovichenko can be seen in the short film “What Have We Lost ?”, which gives young people a voice to tell what they have lost since the start of the war.

Magdaline Boutros

January 31, 2024

  • Europe

“My life was going well before the war. I was an ordinary teenager: I went to school, learned English and had fun with my friends. » Valeriia Vdovichenko's life was like that of many other teenagers before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But suddenly, on February 24, 2022, his world was shattered. Le Devoir spoke with Valeriia to understand how Ukrainian children are faring almost two years after the start of the war.

Incredulous: This is the feeling that best describes what Valeriia felt in the first days after Russia's assault. “At first, I didn’t believe it,” says the 17-year-old in a video interview. I was confused, I couldn't understand. Then I remember sleeping for two weeks. Then I understood the horror [into which we were plunged]. »

A few days later, at the beginning of March, the young girl, who lived in the town of Kryvyï Rih in the south of the country, was forced to leave everything she knew. “It was the hardest time of my life. » With her sister and mother, Valeriia left for Slovakia, leaving her father behind (Ukrainian men are not allowed to leave the country).

“I took my sketchbook, my camera and some clothes. I only brought winter clothes because I thought it would be cold like in Ukraine. But it was spring there,” the teenager recalls.

About six months later, Valeriia returned to Kryvyï Rih with her mother. “But my 27-year-old sister decided to stay in Slovakia,” she says. It was my dream to return to Ukraine. I didn't understand how I could live far from home. »

Daily alerts

Some of his friends are still in Kryvyï Rih, a town located near the front line where the president, Volodymyr Zelensky, comes from. Others went abroad. “When they come to see us, it’s always a very powerful moment. »

Due to the war, Valeriia usually goes to school two days a week and takes her classes online the rest of the week. “But this week, due to the high level of alerts, we only had one day at school. »

These alerts, warning of an imminent attack, are now part of his daily life. “Today we just had two alerts, but that’s unusual. Sometimes it’s 5, 6 or 7 per day. »

When Valeriia is at school and an alarm sounds, she takes refuge in a shelter with her classmates. “But most alerts happen at night. I wake up to the sound of bombs, she says. The last infrastructure that was destroyed in my city was our shopping center, located near a hospital and a train station. There were no military targets nearby. »

Does she feel that she has changed as a person since the start of the war ? “This feeling of constant danger transforms us, even if we don’t see it or don’t feel it. It’s not natural for people to experience this. »

Art therapy

In recent months, Valeriia has participated in an art therapy project run by the Voices of Children foundation. For several weeks, a dozen teenagers living in occupied territories or near the front line participated in online workshops to learn how to write a film script.

Then, the young people met for five days in western Ukraine to produce a 13-minute documentary, surrounded by a team of visual arts professionals and a psychologist. Titled What Have We Lost ? ~), the short film gives a voice to young people to talk about what they have lost since the start of the war, all enhanced with evocative images.

“I lost faith in the future, the sense of calm and my roots,” Valeriia says in the film, which is expected to be shown at festivals soon.

Lasting bonds have been created between these young people who experience similar realities. “It was an incredible experience,” the teenager says enthusiastically. When we feel that we understand each other, that we have the same ideas, it inspires a lot. This project nourished my spirit and gave me fresh air to continue my life. »

Making things change

An experience which also gave him the impetus to make another documentary, this times in his city, on the names of streets paying homage to Russian or Soviet personalities. “We wanted to show that young people want to change that [by renaming the streets]. We're going to broadcast it on YouTube. »

A few weeks ago, Valeriia's father was drafted and had to join the ranks of the army. “It’s difficult, but we understand that it’s the only way [to fight Russia]. » Valeriia still manages to talk to him every day on the phone.

The young woman now dreams of moving to kyiv to study journalism. “I also want to do arts and do something positive for my city. We must be more active in society to change things. » Valeriia says she is convinced that she herself — with her head full of projects and convictions — can make things change.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116