First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

Ukraine’s children have become a frontline target for...

Defend Truth

Opinionista

Ukraine’s children have become a frontline target for the invading Russian forces

mm

Liubov Abravitova is the Ambassador of Ukraine to South Africa.

When the war had just started, we began writing ‘KIDS’ on the cars and buses that were evacuating our children to safety, on schools and kindergartens, on buildings where children were taking shelter – and were shocked that those were the first targets Russia hit.

When the first missiles hit peacefully sleeping Ukraine on that early February morning we instantly knew that we were in for a fight of our lives. But, what we didn’t know and were absolutely unprepared for is that we were in a fight with absolute evil.

Russian armed forces, with a complete disregard to international humanitarian law, have made our children one of their main targets. And today, I want to talk to you about our kids, who became particularly vulnerable due to the barbaric way Russia carries out its offensive.

Please take this as a warning, and if you are vulnerable to topics of war crimes against children, I urge you to stop reading.

There are now multiple reports out on how bad things really are for our children. There are millions of those who immigrated or are internally displaced, who have found themselves in a new environment, without most of their family and friends, with a language they don’t understand and a city they are unfamiliar with.

And those are considered the lucky ones. Our children continue to face immense hardship under the grim reality of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children have lost their parents; many have starved or died of dehydration; they have been tortured, raped, and killed by Russians every day for 140 days.

When the war had just started we began writing “KIDS” on the cars and buses that were evacuating our children to safety, on schools and kindergartens, on buildings where children were taking shelter – and we were shocked that those were the first targets Russia hit.

A recent report shows 346 Ukrainian kids were killed and almost 700 injured. Just a few days ago, when Russia struck Vinnytsia, a city that was considered a safe place in Ukraine, three kids under seven years were killed and burnt alive after a missile strike. (Photo: Supplied)
When the war had just started, we began writing ‘KIDS’ on the cars and buses that were evacuating our children to safety, on schools and kindergartens, on buildings where children were taking shelter and we were shocked that those were the first targets Russia hit. (Photo: Supplied)
Social media was flooded with messages from people of Syria, Georgia and Chechnya telling us that Russians did the same thing in their countries. (Photo: Supplied)

Later on, social media was flooded with messages from the people of Syria, Georgia, and Chechnya telling us that Russians did the exact same thing in their countries and every car, house, or organisation with “KIDS” written on it was the first thing the Russian soldiers attacked.

We later found out that it’s their military tactic to instil fear. Unfortunately, this information reached us far too late, as for a while we thought that any indication that there are children present would compel any human being to react in the way any other human would, but not use it as a target.

We were wrong.

These are just a few examples of Russia’s war crimes. Evacuation vehicles that were marked “KIDS” were shelled and shot at if the Russian troops saw them. 

A recent report shows 346 Ukrainian children have been killed and almost 700 injured in a very short while. And that number keeps climbing.

Just a few days ago when Russia struck Vinnytsia, a city that was considered a safe place in Ukraine: three children under the age of seven were killed and burned alive during a missile strike in the middle of the day.

As a mother, when I think of these little angels, who were happily living their lives with their loving families just days ago. It breaks my heart.

(Photo: Supplied)
(Photo: Supplied)

The children of Mariupol’s Drama Theatre

One of the most horrific war crimes against Ukrainian children took place in Mariupol. The photos from Russia’s deliberate attack on the Regional Academic Drama Theatre in Mariupol circled the globe and shocked every person capable of even a bit of empathy.

Mariupol, a big, beautiful city on the Azov Sea, now completely destroyed by Russians, has been a target for Russian war criminals since day one. Today, this beautiful place in Ukraine, home to half-a-million Ukrainians just five months ago, has no infrastructure. Running, clean water is a luxury, and decaying bodies and the ruined sewerage system in Mariupol are helping to spread cholera, which is killing those who survived heavy bombings.

The people of Mariupol were unsafe everywhere in their city; going out for bread or water meant there was a big chance you won’t make it back home, so people decided to find shelter, a safe place for their children, and that’s how almost a thousand of them ended up in the famous Mariupol Drama Theatre. 

They were bombed and killed on 16 March 2022.

The children of Mariupol’s Drama Theatre was easily visible from the sky with huge forecourts on both sides of the building, where parents wrote ‘KIDS’ clearly visible on satellite images. (Photo: Supplied)

Parents had written “KIDS” on both sides of the theatre’s huge forecourts, which were clearly visible from the sky and as distinct as day to the Russian pilots.

There are now multiple reports, including by Amnesty International, indicating that Russia’s military deliberately attacked the Mariupol theatre despite knowing thousands of civilians were taking shelter there.

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general stated that: “After months of rigorous investigation, analysis of satellite imagery, and interviews with dozens of witnesses, we concluded that the strike was a clear war crime committed by Russian forces.”

Meet Natalia, Yana and Yaroslav

Natalia, mom to her twin boy, Yaroslav, and girl, Yana. (Photo: The First Medical Association of Lviv)
Yana and Yaroslav miraculously survived Russia’s attack on civilians. They were struck by Russian missiles at the railway station of Kramatorsk. (Photo: The First Medical Association of Lviv)

These are the photos of one beautiful Ukrainian family, of literally thousands, who miraculously survived Russia’s attacks on civilians. This little family from a small town in Ukraine’s Donetsk region were trying to evacuate to a safe place. They were struck by a Russian missile aimed at the railway station of Kramatorsk. They are a strong, unbreakable family, standing tall against Russia’s unimaginable evil.

Natalia, mother of the twin boy and girl, says: “I just wanted to get my kids [out] from under shelling. We just got to the train station and were waiting for the train. Volunteers were handing out drinks and my daughter asked for a cup of tea. My son stayed guarding our luggage and I took my daughter to buy her the drink, just as we came outside the missile struck and I blacked out. I opened my eyes when I heard people screaming. Everything around us was covered in blood. And then I saw that my daughter’s legs were torn off. I tried to get up to get to her and couldn’t and that is when I saw the same had happened to me too.”

Meet Veronica

And this little angel is Veronica. You can definitely call her a symbol of unbreakable Ukraine. Veronica’s apartment building was destroyed by a Russian tank. She lost all her family members on the day of the attack and she was dug up from the ruins by her neighbours when they heard something under the rubble. (Photo: The First Medical Association of Lviv)

Veronica was struck in the head by a piece of metal that broke off the tank cartridge, lost part of her hand and is partially paralysed. She celebrated her 10th birthday just a while ago in a hospital with medical staff. She has a long journey to recover, surgeons are now trying to save her eye, and in a while, they need to operate to remove the piece of metal that is still lodged in her brain.

But, as of now, doctors say she is doing well and has already taken her first steps after injury. Her memory is coming back bit by bit. DM

Gallery

Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

No Comments, yet

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted