Russian troops set up a military camp on March 3 in Yahidne, a small farming community northeast of the capital, Kiev. Serhi and his family were imprisoned in the basement of his school along with hundreds of others. Ten days later, as he was queuing for lunch at the playground, an explosion occurred and he was hit by shrapnel.
“First, the back was hit hard. I fell, couldn’t get up, couldn’t move,” he told CNN on Thursday, pointing to the spot behind his school where he was hit. “People ran and picked me up. I couldn’t even walk. There was so much blood.”
The next day, Kishore was flown by helicopter across the border to Belarus for treatment by the Russian army along with their wounded soldiers. Photos of his injuries shared with CNN show a deep cut to his shoulder. A medical report from the Gomel Regional Children’s Clinical Hospital, where he was treated, said he suffered an open fracture of the shoulder blade, fractured ribs and a deep wound to the right lung.
Over the next month, Serhi lost contact with his family and underwent major surgery twice. His mother, Svitlana Sorokopud, said that since Russian forces in Yahidne took all the residents’ cell phones and were cut off from the outside world, she had no way of finding out where her son had gone.
“When you don’t know where your child is, words can’t describe it,” she said. “I cried day and night. He was so badly hurt and I didn’t know where he was.”
She said her son was not only physically hurt, but the pain of being separated from his family. “At first, he couldn’t even sleep there, and he was having nightmares. He was worried we wouldn’t pick him up.”
It was only after the Russians began withdrawing on March 30 that Serhi contacted his parents, and his family was able to buy a new cell phone and regain access to the Internet. They say the Belarusian doctor posted Serhi’s name, date of birth and hometown on social media. “Parents, perhaps, [are] in Yahidne,” the post read. “Please spread the word so they know the boy is alive.”
When they found out where he was, Svitlana said they spoke on the phone almost every day for a month, assuring him he was coming. His 25-year-old sister crossed the border to Poland and then Belarus in early May to get him.
Now there are burnt houses on every street in Yahidne. Outside the house where Serhi and his family now live, his 9-year-old brother and young nephew pretend to run the checkpoint. The idea of a new Russian offensive in northern Ukraine is never far from their minds. “There is no fear now,” Serhi said. “But sometimes I wonder what would happen if they came back and what they would do.”
Yet the impact is not only physical, but psychological, said Daria Gerasimchuk, the Ukrainian president’s commissioner for children’s rights.
“Every Ukrainian child has been affected… every child has heard air raid warnings. Children see the suffering of their relatives and friends. Children are forced to say goodbye to parents who went to the front to defend the country. Those who are still in business. Those who are wounded. In other words , every Ukrainian child has suffered very serious psychological and physical injuries,” Gerasimchuk said in an interview with CNN last week.
Her mother remembers the moment when she called Genya and confirmed that she was still alive. “There was no joy [at] At this point I could hear her,” she told CNN, sitting beside her daughter outside a school gymnasium in Kiev’s Chokolivka district before Jenya’s Saturday morning gymnastics class. “It was even scarier because I was thinking. [that] She was also in pain… I was telling her, ‘Someone will come.’ Did I believe it? That’s another question.”
Stuck for a few hours, Jenya was injured and suffered several scratches. Her mother, trapped for five hours, sustained burns, deep cuts and fractures.
Weeks later, her daughter’s psychological scars are what worries Katrina the most. When asked if it is possible for the child to understand what has happened, her voice breaks. “I’m not sure we adults understand emotionally what’s going on.”
When the sirens start again, Jenna’s gymnastics classes are only separated. Jumping on the mat and tying is a chance to heal and forget for a while.
Katrina is worried that fear is now too familiar for her daughter. “That [her childhood] was taken… There will be happy moments in the future and many parents are still trying to make these moments happen for them,” she said, adding that the children had experienced “a lot”.
Katrina added that she “never imagined” that her daughter would grow up in an environment where she would recognize the sounds of sirens, rockets and gunfire. “You don’t expect your child to learn at age seven.”
“The scariest thing is [children] Seems normal already. They talk about it like it’s their daily life.”