Annamaria Maslovska fled her home in Kharkiv after bombs began to fall and she left behind her toys, friends and life in Ukraine. She set out on a long journey with her mother towards safety in the West.
The 10-year-old, who was finally able to cross the Hungarian border with hundreds of other Ukrainian refugees by train, said that she was concerned about her friends in Kharkiv because Viber messages that she had sent went unanswered.
“I miss them so much because I can’t reach them. They just read my messages, and that’s it. She spoke in clear English, speaking from the Zahony train station.
Annamaria was raised by her mother alone. She is one of over 1,000,000 children who fled Ukraine in less than 2 weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine. This, according to UNICEF spokesperson James Elder, is “a dark historical first”.
This means that at least half the 2 million refugees from war are children, a situation the U.N. refugee agency calls the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II. Even children have had to travel alone.
Experts say that while young children might not be able to comprehend the loss of their lives, those older than them are more aware of their difficulties and may seek refuge from the psychological trauma caused by war.
Margot, a 1-year old girl, traveled from Kyiv across Ukraine to Siret, crossing into Romania. It was like a little adventure, said Viktoria Filonchuk (37).
She suspects that older children understand the “tragedy” of what they are experiencing.
“These little children may not understand the tragedy, but kids aged 3-4 years old understand it. Filonchuk stated that Filonchuk believed it was very difficult for them.
Daniel Gradinaru is a coordinator at Fight for Freedom, which is a Christian NGO located at the Romanian border. He said that older children might be “marked for life” by having to leave their homes unexpectedly and travel for days in the freezing cold.
Gradinaru stated, “I hope that they are going to the people receiving them offer them counseling.”
Many of the people fleeing war entered countries along Ukraine’s west border like Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. According to the Polish Border Guard agency, 1.33 million refugees crossed into Poland.
In recent times, many Ukrainians have tried to flee their homes through humanitarian corridors that were opened to them to escape conflict zones.
However, Natalia Mudrenko (the highest ranking woman at Ukraine’s U.N. Mission) has accused Russia that it held civilians, including children and women, hostage in several of Ukraine’s embattled areas and attacked them while they fled.
Mudrenko spoke at Tuesday’s U.N. Security Council meeting and stated that civilians are not allowed to leave, and that humanitarian aid is not allowed in.
Mudrenko cried, shaking her voice with emotion. They are starving and thirsty, and they will die.”
She stated that a 6-year old girl was killed Monday in Mariupol, Azov Sea. Her mother was killed in Russian shelling.
Valeria Varenko (9 years old) traveled all night to Hungary to visit her mother Julia and her brother. They were forced to flee bombings in Ukraine and had to hide in their basement apartment in Kyiv.
On Wednesday, the family reached Barabas, Hungary’s temporary refugee center. Valeria stated that she wanted to remind children who were left in Ukraine to be cautious and not touch objects on the streets. “They could be bombs, which can cause them great harm.”
Her father was able to stay behind to defend Kyiv against Russian troops moving closer to the city. She expressed pride in him and said that she misses him very much.
She said, “I would love him to come. But unfortunately he’s not allowed.”
Other than children, the most common refugees are women – the mothers and grandmothers who bring the children to safety, since Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave the country.
This policy is intended to keep men available to fight against Russian forces that make deeper incursions into Ukrainian territory.
Russian forces have heavily bombarded Annamaria’s hometown, Kharkiv (Ukraine’s second-largest, 1.5 million population). Residents in the area near the Russian border were bombarded for several more days, before a missile strike struck a government building at the city’s central Freedom Square. It killed at least six.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian President, called the attack “frank and unreserved terror.”
Annamaria, a precocious 10-year-old, already knows that she wants to become an actress in America. She is proud to speak English well.
She said, “I want to act in the USA and English is a very common language.” “A large percentage of people around the world can speak it, and it’s easy to learn it in other countries.”
Viktoria, her mother, and Annamaria plan to continue their journey to Budapest, Hungary’s capital. However, they don’t know where to go. Annamaria stated that she wanted to visit Disneyland Paris.
She said that once the war is over, she would like to return to Kharkiv to reunite with friends she lost to Russia’s invasion.
She said, “If war ceases, I really want my family to go home because there is my friends, there’s beautiful parks, supermarkets and centers behind my house, and there are playgrounds.”
“Kharkiv is like a part of your heart.”