Boredom, loneliness plague Ukrainian youth near front line

SLOVIANSK, Ukraine (AP) — Anastasia Alexandrova was not even looking up from her phone when nearby artillery thundered through the area the 12-year-old girl shared with her grandparents on the outskirts of Sloviansk in eastern Ukraine.

After the Russian invasion, there was no one her age left in her neighborhood and classVideo games and social media have made her enjoy hiking and biking with friends she once ran away with.

“She communicates less and walks out less. She usually stays at home and plays games on her phone,” Anastasia’s grandmother, Olena Alexandrova, 57, said of the shy, shy girl who likes to paint and has a picture of a Siberian tiger hanging on her bedroom wall.

Anastasia’s retreat to digital technology to cope with the isolation and stress of war just seven miles (12 kilometers) away is common among young people in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

As cities largely empty after hundreds of thousands of people flee to safety, Moscow has unleashed a troubling response to fear and violence on Ukraine for young people who face loneliness and boredom.

“I don’t have anyone to hang out with. I sit with the phone all day,” Anastasia said by the pool where she sometimes swims with her grandfather. “My friends left and my life changed. This war made it worse.

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

Mass displacement has ruined countless childhoods, not only for those starting new lives after finding safety elsewhere, but also for the thousands of people left behind.

In the industrial city of Kramtorsk, seven miles (12 kilometers) south of Sloviansk, the friendship between 19-year-old Roman Kovalenko and 18-year-old Oleksandr Pruzhina has grown stronger as all their other friends have left town.

Two teenagers walk together through a mostly deserted town, sitting down to talk on a park bench. Both described being cut off from the social life they had enjoyed before the war.

“It’s a completely different feeling when you go out. There is almost no one on the street, I feel like an apocalypse,” said Pruzina, who lost her job at a barbershop after the attack and now spends most of her time at home playing computer games.

“I feel like everything I was going to do has become impossible, everything has collapsed in an instant.”

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

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

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

A special police force has been tasked with personally contacting families with children and urging them to flee to safety, Kirilenko said.

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

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

A pianist and singer who wants to study art at university after completing her final year of high school, Sofia Maria said she was now left by her friends with “nowhere to go and nothing to do”.

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

Her mother, Victoria, said that since the town was mostly empty, she could only sell one or two items a week.

But with the threat of gunfire on the streets and the running of soldiers, her daughter is no longer allowed to go out alone and spends most of her time by her mother’s side at the store or at their home outside Kramatorsk where there is a risk of rocket attacks. is less

“I always keep her close to me so that if anything happens, at least we will be together,” she said.

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

“Parents cannot be forced to leave with their children,” Goncharenko said, as authorities push for residents to evacuate and provide information about transportation and housing. 1 Sep He said when the school session starts on 10th, online lessons will be provided for the residents.

In Kramtorsk’s lush but nearly empty Pushkin Park, Rodion Kucherian, 14, maneuvered his scooter up an otherwise deserted set of ramps, quarter pipes and grind rails.

Before the war, he said, he and his friends would play tricks in a crowded park with many other children. But now his only connection to his friends – who have fled to countries like Poland and Germany – is through social media.

He has worked at other retreats to keep himself busy, he said.

“It’s so bad not seeing my friends. I haven’t seen my best friend for more than four months,” he said. “I started riding home so I don’t miss them much.”

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

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

Her best friend, Yeva, used to live on her street, but she moved with her family to Lviv in western Ukraine.

Anastasia wears a silver pendant around her neck — a half-broken heart with the word “love” engraved on the front — and Yeva, she said, wears the other half.

“I never take it off and never will,” she said.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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