Boredom and loneliness plague Ukrainian youth near the front line


Olena Aleksandrova, looks towards the thunder of nearby artillery barrages from the garden of her house in Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Monday, Aug. 8, 2022. Olena, said the family is waiting to see what will happen in Sloviansk before making a decision to leave with their 12-year-old granddaughter. The front line is only 12 kilometers away and their town is considered a strategic target by the Russian army. (AP Photo/David Goldman)


Anastasiia Aleksandrova doesn’t even look up from her phone as the thunder of nearby artillery rumbles through the modest home the 12-year-old shares with her grandparents on the outskirts of Sloviansk in eastern Russia. ‘Ukraine.

With no one her age left in her neighborhood and classes only online since the invasion of Russia, video games and social media have replaced the walks and bike rides she once enjoyed with fleeing friends. from.

“She communicates less and goes out less while walking. She usually stays home to play games on her phone,” Anastasiia’s grandmother, Olena Aleksandrova, 57, said of the shy, lanky girl who loves to paint and has a photo of her. a Siberian tiger hanging on the wall of his bedroom.

Anastasiia’s retreat into digital technology to cope with the isolation and stress of war raging on the front line just 12 kilometers away is becoming more common among young people in the besieged Donetsk region in Ukraine.

With cities largely empty after hundreds of thousands were evacuated to safety, young people who remain face loneliness and boredom as painful counterpoints to the fear and violence Moscow has unleashed on Ukraine.

“I have no one to go out with. I sit with the phone all day,” Anastasiia said from the shore of a lake where she sometimes swims with her grandparents. “My friends left and my life changed. It got worse because of this war.

More than 6 million Ukrainians, mostly women and children, have fled the country and millions more are internally displaced, according to the UN refugee agency.

The massive displacement has upended countless childhoods, not only for those who had to start a new life after seeking safety elsewhere, but also for the thousands who remained behind.

In the industrial city of Kramatorsk, 12 kilometers south of Sloviansk, the friendship between 19-year-old Roman Kovalenko and 18-year-old Oleksandr Pruzhyna has grown closer as all their other friends have left town.

The two teenagers walk together in the almost deserted city, sitting to chat on park benches. Both described being cut off from the social life they enjoyed before the war.

“It’s a completely different feeling when you go out. There’s hardly anyone on the streets, I feel like I’m in an apocalypse,” said Pruzhyna, who lost her job at a hairdresser after the invasion and now spends most of her time at the house playing video games.

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

Of the approximately 275,000 children aged 17 or younger in the Donetsk region before the Russian invasion, only 40,000 remain, the province’s regional governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, told The Associated Press. last week.

According to official figures, 361 children have been killed in Ukraine since Russia launched its war on February 24, and 711 others have been injured.

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

A special police force has been tasked with individually contacting households with children and urging them to flee to safer areas, Kyrylenko said.

“As a father, I think children should not be in the Donetsk region,” he said. “It’s an active war zone.”

In Kramatorsk, 16-year-old Sofia Mariia Bondar spends most of her days sitting in the shoe department of a clothing store where her mother works.

Pianist and singer who wants to study art at university after finishing her final year of high school, Sofia Mariia says there is “nowhere to go and nothing to do” now that her friends are gone.

“I wish I could go back in time and do everything like before. I understand that most of my friends who left will never come back, no matter what happens in the future,” she said. “Of course, it’s very sad that I can’t have fun like other teenagers, but I can’t do anything about it, just deal with it.

Her mother, Viktoriia, said that since the city has largely emptied out, she only manages to sell one or two items a week.

But with the danger of shelling and soldiers roaming the streets, her daughter is no longer allowed to go out alone and spends most of her time alongside her mother in the store or at their home on the outskirts of Kramatorsk where the threat of rocket strikes is lower.

“I keep her close to me all the time so that in case something happens, at least we’ll be together,” she said.

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

As authorities continue to urge residents to evacuate and provide transportation and accommodation information, “parents cannot be forced to leave with their children,” Goncharenko said. When the school semester begins on September 1, he said classes will be offered online for those who stay.

In Kramatorsk’s leafy but nearly empty Pushkin Park, 14-year-old Rodion Kucherian performed tricks on his scooter on an otherwise deserted set of ramps, quarter pipes and grind rails.

Before the war, he says, he and his friends would ride around the bustling park alongside many other children. But now his only connection to his friends – who have fled to countries like Poland and Germany – is on social media.

He took up other solitary activities just to keep himself busy, he said.

“It’s very sad not to see my friends. I haven’t seen my best friend in over four months,” he said. “I started riding my bike at home, so I don’t miss them as much.”

In Sloviansk, 12-year-old Anastasiia said she can’t remember the last time she played with someone her own age, but she has made new friends through the games she plays online .

“It’s not the same thing. It’s much better to go play outside with your friends than to just talk online,” she said.

Her best friend, Yeva, lived on her street, but evacuated with her family to Lviv in western Ukraine.

Anastasiia wears a silver pendant around her neck – half of a broken heart with the word “Love” engraved on the front – and Yeva, she says, wears the other half.

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


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Lynn A. Saleh