“Mothers do not try to cry, children no longer laugh”

Ukrainian mother and son reach a transit center in Lviv – Photo by Giovanni Diffidenti. Lent by WeWorld

Women and children, mothers and their children. It is the other face of resistance, less visible, because the noise of weapons and the horrors of war do not allow us to look beyond today or to distract ourselves from the struggle for survival. But the conflict in Ukraine is also a dramatic tale of mothers and children: the image of the pregnant woman who died after the bombing of Mariupol Hospital, the emigration of women and children on the run, families divided because husbands and fathers continue to struggle or waiting to be called to do so.

It is a dark corner, a space where the only margin of hope at this moment is the work of those who bring help: mothers and children do not have the strength to smile, not now, not in a place like a transit center to Lviv. From here you pass to leave Ukraine: 2.3 million refugees, out of the nearly 4 million who left the country, crossed the border to the west to enter Poland, then we’ll see. Women, mothers and children, many children. In Ukraine, 7 and a half million minors are at risk, according to Unicef, even of becoming victims of horrific human trafficking.

“What does it take? Everything, food for the little ones and the newborns, basic materials and then a great psychological help, because the trauma that children experience is enormous, and we already know now, the experts say, that in a few months it will explode with greater power and will be worse. “Olimpia Sermonti, 30, from Rome, was a few days ago in Burundi, Bujumbura, engaged in a development cooperation project for the NGO she works for as a humanitarian worker, WeWorld. With the outbreak of the conflict, she became thrown to Ukraine to coordinate and organize the response to the emergency to give life, as part of the actions promoted by the UN, to psychological and psychosocial support channels, but also financial relief to refugees and support to volunteers who have worked tirelessly in extreme situations since the conflict broke out. Gabrielle speaks while sirens are heard, fifth time today, she says, moving to reach a safe place.

“I have practically not slept for several days, and if I do not sleep, I can imagine how the children feel. They are traumatized: if they even hear a door slam, they get an immediate fear reaction. The other day, a child opened the snack and caused the package to burst: in the gym, it was panic. When the sirens go off, it’s worse. We try to help them with psychologists and offer them play moments. We have opened places that are child-friendly, in the reception centers also the opportunity to follow the school from a distance. But we have to deal with very high stress. Seats for children are safe places and should also be used by parents, especially mothers, so that they can breathe, rest for a few hours, but it is difficult: children can not break away as soon as they come out of the room. it’s hard to keep them. They struggle to be alone, they are afraid of being abandoned. The children we offer the opportunity for distance learning are unable to concentrate, they last three minutes: they come from a two-year pandemic and now the war … ».

Ukrainian mother and son arrive at a transit center in Lviv

Ukrainian mother and son reach a transit center in Lviv – Photo by Giovanni Diffidenti. Lent by WeWorld

Play areas for children, babysitters, dad: the needs are ultimately the same as the world at peace. The tones change, which becomes gloomy. One would like to find signs of hope, but there are moments in history where the only relief is the commitment of those who offer their help, or to see that man resists and waits and asks for only one thing: that the war ends. “Make it stop! Get it over with!” said an elderly woman when asked what she needed.The opposition is not just an armed man.Olimpia tells of another woman who was here in Lviv when they bombed Mariupol, where her children and her husband were still there: “I met her when she was able to get her children back to safety. She could only eat once a day, she had nothing left, only one dress, I asked her what she needed, she squeezed the children’s hands, sank her fingers and nails into their flesh, she replied and said, ‘Forget me now. help others in need’. There is this courage, this mental strength in women that makes an impression ».

Olimpia has no children, she trusts that in moments like this it’s hard to think about it and even just imagine it. Seen from Ukraine, the issue of birth rates in the developed world makes the privilege of countries living in peace even more obvious, and perhaps we should appreciate this lesson. “I see carefully how demanding it is to be a mother, in situations like this we understand that women carry a huge burden: they have distanced themselves from their partners and men, they have to be the first and second parents, deal with the anxiety that their children they live because their father is left behind, he is not there, he is in the areas where fighting and bombs fall.Women must be strong.The other day a girl with a baby in her arms asked for handkerchiefs and she broke out in she tore, and with her hand she covered her son’s eyes: she did not want him to see her cry, she held back, she did not intend to show the child’s fragility and pain, her vulnerability. redeemed when you are a mother ‘.

One of the biggest burdens for volunteers, in extreme contexts, is having to live with the feeling of helplessness. To be committed, work, help, give of oneself and know that there are people who can not be helped, needs that can not be met, results that do not arrive. Sometimes, like a parent, you can do no more than just be there. In Lviv, and certainly elsewhere in Ukraine, children do not laugh: “They say that it is normal for psychologists to explain what is happening. Volunteers suggest activities to entertain them, distract them from the horrors of war, but the children no longer laugh, they are terrified. They still feel at war ‘.

The sun has gone down, it’s dark, the alarm siren starts ringing again. What do these mothers and children need? “From time to time, but first and foremost, they just want the war to end.”

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