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BEYOND THE TERRIFT: Konstantin Guzenko documenting children from the frontline regions

Russian aggression brings grief not only to the territory of active hostilities or occupation, but also far beyond the contact line. Children, being dependent on their parents and needing a safe environment for learning and socialization, often feel these problems more acutely than others.

In November 2023, I spent time with volunteer organizations that have taken on the responsibility of not leaving these children without opportunities in the future. And I tried to better understand those who will soon be creating our common context.

In early November 2023, more than 90 children were forcibly evacuated from certain settlements in the Kupyansk district, which are closest to the contact line. Due to the difficulty of getting to the left bank of Oskol and the obvious danger of regular shelling by Russian artillery, the last signs of life there are reduced to basic survival.

Unfortunately, even the "mandatory" evacuation means only the personal conviction of parents by volunteers accompanied by police. Fear of leaving their familiar surroundings makes some of them risk their children's lives and livelihoods.

Premises used for distribution of humanitarian aid, Kupyansk district 12.11.23

"I don't need Kharkiv, I know every trail here. Do you want me to show you a mine?"

14-year-old Artem argues with volunteers and police about the need to evacuate Kupyansk district 12.11.23

Mykyta and Denys, who did not want to leave their mother in the frontline village until the moment of forced evacuation, Kupiansk district 12.11.23

In the once vibrant Kramatorsk, where civilian life seems to have come to a standstill due to the full-scale invasion, children experience the same limited choice of activities and environment day after day. Online learning, parents' fear of letting their children go far away, and often the loss of friends who have left the city only preserve the worries and lack of a lively interest in development.

Pigeons on the empty central square of the old town, Kramatorsk 28.11.23

Tasya helps at the cash register of her mother's store, Kramatorsk, 11.21.23

Tasya learns to dance at one of the few working sports schools. Even in large cities after the full-scale invasion began, there is a shortage of opportunities for extracurricular development. Kramatorsk 28.11.23

After getting acquainted with the context of dependence on parents during regular evacuations, volunteers decided to support the development of those children who have no other way to escape the difficult conditions of isolation at home. This space for experimentation helps to restore children's natural curiosity.

Art classes for children from Base UA volunteers. Kramatorsk 26.11.23

In remote settlements, where personal connections and the usual course of things are critically important, any lack of external assistance is felt even more acutely. Without personal transportation and free time and money to use it, it becomes impossible to travel outside of depopulated villages.

One of the most striking encounters this month was with Sofia, who continues to shine even in her small world of family and pets on the outskirts of Kostyantynivka. She greets the soldiers with drawings, gives them her handicrafts made of plasticine donated by someone and shares every little thing. Her family became attached to these conditions partly because of their eldest child with special needs. Moving or making major changes to their routine is too difficult for their mother.

Sofia and her parrot, Kostiantynivka, 26.11.23

Sofia is looking for calming cartoons for her older sister with cerebral palsy, Kostiantynivka 26.11.23

Mykyta studies with a volunteer in the house where his family moved from the destroyed Bohorodichne. Their attempt to start a new life in Dnipro, where there are more opportunities, ended in trauma from the terrorist attack of January 14, 23. With no functioning boarding school nearby, where he started his education, this task falls on the shoulders of parents or volunteers busy with repairs and work. Tetianivka 23.11.23

Nikita chops wood to heat their new temporary home, Tetianivka 29.11.23

As long as Russia's invasion continues, life in these regions will continue to look like this. Each individual story of a difficult but saved childhood deserves empathy and understanding of the context for the sake of a common future.


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