Region Parents in Ukraine’s Kherson Region are grappling with a difficult decision – to stay or to leave.
Kherson, Ukraine —
The sound of children’s footsteps echoed along a school hallway in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson as pupils gathered to board a coach marked “Evacuation.”
Nadiya Kondratkova was in the midst of her suitcases, her red lips quivering and tears filling her eyes. It was her first time being separated from her daughters.
Nadiya explained her choice to send them elsewhere, stating they needed to find a peaceful place away from the loud noises and chaos of the explosions and sirens.
AFP was informed by her that they are very tired and unable to rest or fall asleep, causing them to cry out during the night.
Since being retaken by Ukrainian forces in November of last year, the city has faced daily assaults following eight months of Russian occupation.
The area is situated on the western side of the Dnipro River, currently controlled by Ukraine, and serves as the unofficial border between the opposing groups in conflict.
However, with Ukrainian forces initiating offensives on the eastern side of the river and increased Russian airstrikes, parents are now confronted with a difficult decision: stay together as a family and risk exposure to bombs, or prioritize the safety of their children.
In response to the increasing threat, authorities in the area established a plan to temporarily relocate children to a vacation spot located in the serene mountains of western Ukraine.
Kherson official Anton Yefanov stated that our goal is to transport 65 children, in addition to the 280 already evacuated, to a safe location for several months. He made this statement while standing next to a bus that was being prepared for the evacuation.
He expressed concern about the increasing danger due to the escalating shelling.
In the distance, the sound of explosions could be heard as families of evacuees conversed, their emotions shifting between laughter and tears.
Kondratkova expressed uncertainty about when she would have the opportunity to see them once more.
“I feel apprehensive about being in Kherson, but it’s become a familiar experience. I endured the occupation.”
‘Forget the war’
Ukraine has reported that more than 500 children have lost their lives since Russia’s invasion in February of last year, marking a tragic milestone in the ongoing conflict that has lasted over 20 months.
However, not all families in Kherson are prepared to separate, even with the urging to evacuate.
Volodymyr and Maryna Pсhelnyk, who are both in their 40s, stated that they would rather have their children stay with them, even if there is potential danger involved.
Their 11-year-old daughter, Dariya, was running around dressed as a witch for Halloween outside their flower stand in the main market of the city. Meanwhile, Volodymyr was putting red makeup around the eyes of their 6-year-old daughter, Anna.
“I am the bringer of death, lurking in the shadows!” Dariya proclaimed, cloaked in black.
Volodymyr smiled as he explained that Halloween is a way for them to put aside the memories of war. He also mentioned that many of their friends have left for other places, leaving them feeling nostalgic.
The girls, draped a sheet printed with cobwebs and bats, ran around bumping into elderly neighbors out shopping.
Being a parent right now is challenging. It’s tough to talk to our children about current events without causing them distress. We remind them to be cautious and to pay attention to warning signals.
He stated that he and his spouse make an effort to bring their kids to playgrounds “prior to the sirens,” in order to remind them that there is also joy, warmth, and happiness in life, not just tragedy and loss.
It is uncommon to see children in Kherson. Some can be found flying kites in designated play areas that are safeguarded by sandbags, while others may go out with their parents at night to avoid air raids.
Last month, at the age of 43, Gennadiy Grytskov made the decision to escape his Kherson suburb. This was in response to a missile strike that had tragically taken the life of his 6-year-old nephew and injured his 13-year-old nephew in his sister’s home.
He currently resides at the location where a previous boarding school was situated in Mykolaiv, approximately 70 kilometers to the northwest.
He described it as a tragedy. As we ran away, we only grabbed my papers and the kids’ clothing, that was it,” he stated while sitting on an improvised bed.
The scent of cooked cabbage filled the hallways of the building, which was currently serving as a temporary shelter for those who had been displaced.
Lyubov, his 62-year-old mother, and five children, one of whom has a disability, all share a classroom that has been converted into a bedroom.
She sat near her son and displayed a photo of her deceased grandson on her phone.
“I had plans to celebrate my son’s birthday that day. However, my grandson had expressed his desire to attend school and learn how to write. Sadly, he never got the chance,” she tearfully shared.
Despite everything, she desires to return to her home one day.
She wiped away a tear as she stated, “My home is my home.”