Since the war began two months ago, Alina, Alex, Daniel, Kiril and Lilia, all aged between eight and 14, have been sleeping in an underground car park in Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine.

As Ukraine’s second-largest city, with nearly 1.5 million residents before the war, Kharkiv has faced a daily barrage of Russian rocket attacks that can occur at any time of day or night and tend to target residential areas near the front line.

In the cold, damp car park where they have been sheltering with their families, the five children spoke to AFP about the bombings, their daily life and hopes for peace.

Here are their stories:

‘The war will end soon’: Alina, 9

On February 24, I was really scared, I was shaking. The first night we slept on chairs then later our parents brought beds and they slept on the chairs.

I started crying a lot: whenever there were bombings or sirens I was really worried about my family and friends who left, and my grandma who left her village near the Russian border.

I don’t want to leave because it’s my town. I was born here.

In the morning, we do lessons online, in the afternoon I do homework and at night we come here.

I miss my kickboxing training and dance classes.

Victory would make me very happy. The war won’t end straight away but it will in a few weeks, I made a wish.

It was my birthday on February 25. My parents wanted to go home to cook something for me but there were bombardments. I was anxious and trembling, it was my birthday and the second day of the war and we couldn’t celebrate.

I hope I can celebrate my next birthday with fireworks but not like these (bombs).

‘I still don’t get it’: Alex, 14

At the start, someone called my dad and told us to leave but my dad didn’t want to, he said we’d stay in Kharkiv.

The first week was scary. Afterwards we got used to it. The first day we stayed home and listened to the news. Then my parents saw people coming down here so we came as well, we brought a table and chairs to use as beds.

At first, there were loads of people and you couldn’t move. But later, half of them left although some are coming back now.

I miss my friends, school, my kickboxing classes.

In the week, I go home in the morning to do my homework then come back here for lunch and to play games with cards or on my phone.

Our parents don’t tell us much about the war. We know missiles are hitting buildings and playgrounds… But I still don’t really get what’s happening, nor why. I only know people are dying.

‘I thought it would end quickly’: Daniel, 13

I was really nervous when it started. I didn’t hear the first attacks. My mum woke me up and said: ‘Son, the war has started’.

I had no idea what we were going to do, if we would leave or if there was even a bomb shelter… I didn’t really understand what was happening, I thought it would end the next day. Later I realized it wouldn’t.

When we got down here, there were too many people, I think the whole neighborhood came. The first few days we slept on cardboard boxes.

Normally I wake up, eat breakfast, play with my friends and leave the bunker (underground car park) for a while.

We study on Zoom and do our homework online.

I hope peace will come with no more explosions or sirens… Victory will be when I wake up and my mum tells me ‘Son, it’s over’.

‘No-one should fight’: Kiril, 13

(On February 24), I woke up and thought there were fireworks. I called my friends to find out what was happening and everyone was panicking. My mum works in a hospital and they called her in.

I came here with a friend but it was closed. But later I came back with my parents. It was completely dark and filthy. The next day, people brought sofas and made it more comfortable.

I thought it would be over in a week but it’s been two months.

Many people are afraid but I’m not, I try to support everyone. I know everyone here so I want to be nice.

Obviously we want to live in peace, no-one should fight. One day, it will be over.

‘I want to breathe fresh air’: Lilia, 8

“My mum woke up when my grandma called her and told her ‘the Russians have started shooting’. I heard that and was really frightened, I cried.

We went to my grandma’s house then we heard people were going to the bunker, so we joined them. There were 200 people on the first day, it was really cold… We have slept here since the first day.

We breathe in a lot of dust. I don’t like that, I’d like to breathe fresh air.

Before I was taking dance classes and learning figure skating but not any more.

For me, the end of the war will be when me and (my older brother and sister) Alex and Alina can celebrate our birthdays… we’ll have barbecues and everyone will be with us.

© 2022 AFP


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