CHERNIVIH—During the long, dark and freezing days of winter, Grade 7 student Bogdan Parasyuk said he dreams of spring, when he can finally get on his bike and race his friends through the central streets from his hometown. Chernihiv is a charming European city full of graceful historical architecture, universities, parks and trendy cafes. At least that was a few weeks ago.
Russia’s war against his country turned the source of Bogdan’s dreams into the worst period of his life. The 13-year-old boy’s war began when Russian soldiers began attacking Chernihiv on February 25. Airstrikes and missiles have since killed hundreds of people, including 54 children, according to Ukraine’s prosecutor general. The attacks hit schools No. 18 and No. 21, a heart clinic, several apartment buildings, a factory and dozens of private homes throughout the city. Hospitals filled with hundreds of sick adults and children were damaged. Missiles and bombs destroyed his favorite theater. And then one of the airstrikes hit Bogdan. He was injured in the legs, arms and face. His father was killed.
Bogdan lifted the edge of his blanket and showed his legs covered in shrapnel wounds from what could have been a cluster bomb. Sitting on his hospital bed with injured legs stretched out in front of him, Bogdan tried to piece together the afternoon of March 16, when he and his father were on their way to recharge their cellphones at a friend’s house. After four weeks of intense treatment, Bogdan still cannot walk; his injured knee did not bend. Last week, Bogdan learned that his father, Vadim, had passed away.
There was a deep sadness on Bogdan’s bruised face, which made him look older. But he didn’t cry. “I blame Russian President Putin for this war,” he told The Daily Beast in an interview. He even joked that if he ever met the Russian president, he would “crush Putin with swear words as heavy as a three-story building.”
Ukrainian children have been among the most affected since battles began between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Russia’s senseless war has left thousands of Ukrainian children shaken, orphaned, injured and killed. Ukrainian authorities reported that 205 children were killed in the first 53 days of the war. Many others suffered devastating injuries.
Dmytro Oseledko is a bit older, but at 21 he was still living at home with his family when he started working as a computer programmer. They were hiding, along with a 12-year-old neighbour, in their bathroom in Mariupol when a Russian plane began firing at private homes on Otkrytaya Avenue last month.
Oseledko remembers seeing a bright spark in the tiny bathroom window just before he passed out. When he came to, he could hear his young neighbor Sonya Karachevtseva shouting, “Help!
He could only use his right hand, digging himself out of the rubble and crawling towards the voice. “I realized that I had no more legs, that I had a few minutes left to live. There was no trace of my mother, she had been buried in the rubble. I could barely see under the dust that covered my face: Sonya’s hip was so badly injured that it looked like it had doubled in size from internal bleeding,” Oseledko told The Daily Beast in an interview at Medical Plaza in London. Dnipro.
Two neighbors saved their lives and took them to the local hospital.
Oseledko’s uncle was eventually able to evacuate him from Mariupol, which is the site of some of the heaviest shelling of the war. The family has not been able to reach Sonya since their departure.
Oseledko – who wants to become a narrative designer for computer games – has some empathy for Russian soldiers his age who are destroying his town.
“I’m sure some of them played the video game HARLER– my city of Mariupol now looks like the area of Pripyat depicted in the game,” Oseledko said. “In their head, the Russians might be playing a game, killing cartoon enemies, but it’s not a game, it was my best friend, my mother, who they killed, mine and legs of Sonia whom they destroyed.”
Back in Chernihiv, Ksenia Kuzyura, a Ukrainian language and foreign literature teacher at school No. 21, says her 8th grade student, Gleb Zheldak, died in one of the bombings. “A Russian bomb fell on the right wing of our school on March 3 when all my 10-year-old students went out for lunch,” Kuzyura told The Daily Beast, as she tried to stop sobbing.
Kuzyura’s own daughter, Tatiana, was injured that day, shrapnel tore her cheek and one of her fingers. “A horrible war has hit our children, our schools and our homes, I can’t find words to express my feelings, we are all still in shock,” the teacher said.
Before war broke out, Zosimenko told The Daily Beast about his plans to evacuate children with cancer from the hospital. But once it started, there were unexpected challenges. “We made a list of 15 children to evacuate, but some children were so sick the doctors told us the trip could kill them, so we had to figure out how to help them,” Zosimenko told The Daily Beast. “This war is far from over. We expect further attacks in a week or two,” Zosimenko said. “The Russians won’t stop until they get their win.”
Bogdan thought about his own future. He hoped to recover soon and move to Austria with his mother. “I don’t blame Russian children, they might be brainwashed, telling them we are bombing ourselves,” he said.
He explained that he is now hoping for an iPad to play his favorite computer games. With a stern expression, he said, “I want peace too.”
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