Boredom and loneliness plague Ukrainian youth near the front lines

SLOVIANSK, UKRAINE (AP) — Anastasia Alexandrova uses her mobile phone as a nearby cannon thunders into the modest house where a 12-year-old girl lives with her grandparents in the eastern Ukraine suburb of Sloviansk. I didn’t even look up.

Since there is no one my age in the neighborhood, classes are held online only Russian invasionvideo games, and social media have replaced the walks and bike rides she once enjoyed with friends.

“We communicated less, we went out less. He talked about a skinny girl.

Anastasia’s retreat to digital technology to cope with the isolation and stress of a war raging on the front lines just 12 kilometers away has become increasingly common among young people in Ukraine’s struggling Donetsk region. target.

After hundreds of thousands fled to safety, cities are nearly empty, and the remaining young people face loneliness and boredom in contrast to the fear and violence Moscow has unleashed on Ukraine. .

“I have no one to hang out with. I sit on the phone all day,” Anastasia said from the lakeside where she sometimes swims with her grandparents. The war made it worse.”

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, more than 6 million Ukrainians, predominantly women and children, have fled the country, and millions more are internally displaced.

Mass evacuations have upended the childhoods of thousands who stayed there, as well as those who had to seek safety and start new lives elsewhere.

In the industrial city of Kramatorsk, 7 miles (12 kilometers) south of Sloviansk, the friendship of 19-year-old Roman Kovalenko and 18-year-old Oleksandr Pruzhina grew closer as all their other friends left the city.

Two teenagers walk together through a largely deserted city, sitting on a park bench and talking. Both describe being cut off from the social lives they enjoyed before the war.

“It’s a completely different feeling when you’re outside. There’s almost no one on the streets, it feels like you’re in the apocalypse,” says he lost his job at a barbershop after the invasion and now spends most of his time at home playing computer games. said Purujina, who was spending her time doing

“I feel like everything I was trying to do became impossible and everything fell apart in an instant.”

Of the approximately 275,000 children under the age of 17 who were in the Donetsk region before the Russian invasion, only 40,000 remain, the province’s governor Pablo Kirilenko told The Associated Press last week. rice field.

According to official figures, 361 children have been killed and 711 wounded in Ukraine since Russia started the war on 24 February.

Authorities are urging all families remaining in Donetsk, especially those with children, to evacuate immediately as Russian forces continue to shell civilian areas as they seek to gain control of the area.

Special police units are tasked with individually contacting families with children and urging them to evacuate to safer places, Kirilenko said.

“As a father, I feel that my children should not be in the Donetsk region,” he said. “This is an active war zone.”

In Kramatorsk, 16-year-old Sophia Maria Bondar spends most of her days sitting in the shoe section of the clothing store where her mother works.

Pianist and singer Sophia Maria, who wants to study art at university after finishing her final year of high school, said she has “nowhere to go and no place to do” now that her friends are gone.

“I wish I could go back in time and do everything the way it used to be. I understand that most friends who leave will never come back no matter what happens in the future,” she said. Do nothing about it, just deal with it. “

Her mother, Victoria, said the city was so nearly empty that she could only sell one or two items a week.

But with the danger of artillery fire and soldiers on the streets, her daughter is no longer allowed to go out alone and spends most of her time with her mother in the shop or in the Kramatorsk suburb where the threat of rockets threatens. I am staying at home. lower than

“I always keep her close to me so if something happens, at least we can be together.

Of the approximately 18,000 school-age children in Kramatorsk before the Russian invasion, only about 3,200 remain, including 600 preschoolers, said Oleksandr Goncharenko, the city’s head of military administration.

Authorities continue to urge residents to evacuate and provide information on transportation and accommodation, but “parents cannot be forced to leave with their children,” Goncharenko said. Beginning on March 1, he said lessons will be offered online for those who stay.

In Kramatorsk’s green but almost empty Pushkin Park, 14-year-old Rodion Kucherian performed tricks on a scooter on a set of ramps, quarter pipes and grind rails.

Before the war, he said, he and his friends used to do tricks in busy parks with many other children. Our only connection with is social media.

He said he started other solitary activities just to keep himself busy.

“I’m so sad I can’t see my friends. I haven’t seen my best friend in over four months,” he said.

Anastasia, 12, from Sloviansk, said she can’t remember the last time she played with someone her age, but she’s made new friends through online games.

“It’s not the same. It’s much better to go out and hang out with friends than just talk online,” she said.

Her best friend Yeva, who used to live on the street, has taken refuge with her family in Lviv in western Ukraine.

She said that Anastasia wears a silver pendant around her neck and half of her broken heart with the word “love” engraved on the front, while Yeva wears the other half.

“I never take it off and neither does Yeva,” she said.


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