Since my birthday on February 24, more than a few children have garnered my attention. Thanks to media of several kinds, I have witnessed the pluck, the joy, the grit, the imagination, the determination that are part and parcel of the little people who populate our lives. By turns, however, I have also been experiencing gladness, madness, and sadness.
In a Facebook video, I watched a group of toddlers enjoy story time at the St. Paris Library. They sang and counted in Spanish. Marching and dancing, they periodically settled down on plastic disks for another story about the day’s theme: popcorn! My favorite was the little guy standing still the entire time while paying rapt attention to the guitar-playing story teller. On the day Ukraine was invaded, the director of the Father’s House orphanage made hasty arrangements for the children, aged 3-18, to board buses. Within just a few hours, all 167 family-less kids were headed for the Polish border – and refuge.
As student-of-the-week in her North Carolina school, Marie took the first-grade’s toy mascot home for the weekend. In Snoopy’s travelogue she wrote, “First Snoopy got in the car and we went to my Grandma’s home.” That same weekend ten-year-old Polina and her parents died when opposition forces opened fire on their car as they attempted to escape the city of Kyiv. Five-year-old Zemyon died later in the hospital. Only thirteen-year-old Sofia survived the attack.
Mere days before her nineteenth birthday, Ruthie, freshman member of the University of Memphis pep band, packed her mellophone and headed to Portland for an NCAA tournament game. The Tigers beat the Broncos of Boise State but could not overcome top-seeded Gonzaga in the second round. As millions of Americans updated their brackets, roughly half of Ukraine’s children fled their homes, including Zlata Moiseinko. The ten-year-old with a long blonde braid and a chronic heart condition finally reached a hospital near the Polish border after days sheltering in a damp basement and nights sleeping in a freezing car. Despite continuous bombing, her father returned sixty miles to the family apartment for their pet hamster – to comfort his distraught daughter.
In North Carolina, with her dance mom looking on proudly, ten-year-old Elizabeth successfully completed her first-ever competition. Donning flowy pink costumes for their lyrical number and sassy coral outfits for the jazz performance, Elizabeth’s team of four dancers received a high gold rating and the Judge’s Choice Award! In central Lviv, Ukrainian children killed thus far in the invasion are being memorialized. In historic Rynok Square more than one hundred empty strollers stand in silent memory of young lives cut short during military operations with dubious but deadly objectives.
Eleven-year-old Jacob, who lives in Mississippi, daily observes the family aerogarden with fascination. He and his family have already made two salads from the lettuce they are growing. Yum! During this first month of invasion, folks in Ukrainian cities under siege have no access to food or medicine. Parents in towns elsewhere spend nights huddling with their families underground, days searching for drinkable water and standing in line for what little food is available.
Also in Mississippi, it is a busy time for siblings Emmitt and Lizzie. While they wait for their new house to be finished, they are busy at school. So it was extra special that Emmitt’s mom attended his baseball game after which they ate lunch together. In just one month, bombs have damaged five hundred schools in Ukraine, with at least sixty completely destroyed. Seven-year-old Alisa became one of 38 reported casualties when her school was attacked with a cluster bomb. Elsewhere, sixteen-year-old Iliya died as he played soccer near his school.
Emmitt’s fourth-grade sister Lizzie also spent a recent day with her mother – at work. Lizzie loves knowing her child psychologist mom uses special, caring ways to help kids and their families face the challenges of autism. In a health care system attacked several times daily by outside military forces, children with disabilities are at high risk for neglect and understaffed facilities. Because doctors fear that medicines for childhood cancer treatment may become unavailable, six hundred sick kids have been evacuated by convoy to the Unicorn Triage Clinic in Poland. In the meantime, two thousand more children thus afflicted await evacuation.
After one month of siege, the children of Ukraine are living in unrelenting stress. Many have been separated from families, especially fathers fighting invading forces. These children have witnessed traumatic events and are often targets of traffickers. Older siblings assume parental responsibilities in refugee centers. UNICEF research shows the longer displacement lasts, the greater the risk of long-term mental health issues.
I cannot be truly worried about children without mentioning the many American youngsters who can be similarly described: hungry, displaced, traumatized kids live right here in the U.S, right here in Ohio, right here in Champaign County.
We must protect our children wherever they live. We must donate appropriately. We must send thoughts and prayers of love through the universe to surround them. We must insist elected officials use their collective insight wisely rather than politically. And when we hug our kids, we must hope in our heart of hearts that all children everywhere will one day soon be able to go work with mom, cheer on a favorite team, take dance lessons, write in Snoopy’s diary, attend school without fear – and watch lettuce grow.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.