Conflicts & War

Orphans hide-and-seek their way out of war-ravaged Ukraine

By Imane Rachidi

Lodz, Poland, Mar 21 (EFE).- At an old building in the Polish city of Lodz, dozens of orphans lay on their bed, hold toys or gaze blankly at the caretakers, still believing their escape from Ukraine is just “a part of a game.”

When they fled the Ukrainian orphanage in the city of Kovel with three caretakers, they were blindfolded to play a real-life version of hide-and-seek.

They had been “practicing for days,” Halina Jowic, the institution’s director, tells Efe.

Jowic says the children were told they were going on a vacation to Poland, adding they did everything possible to prevent the orphans from learning the truth.

The ultimate goal of the trip was to get them to safety outside of the Ukrainian territory because the Russian forces were intensifying attacks.

The trip took almost eight hours, but when they reached the border, they had to cross into Poland on foot, and they did so with another group of orphans who had also fled from another center.

In total, 94 minors aged between 3 and 16 were picked up by buses at the border, thanks to the Happy Kids Foundation, which has helped evacuate thousands of Ukrainian children and continues to try to remove minors from other orphanages across the country. More than 150,000 children are in foster care in Ukraine.

This group has found refuge in a building in Lodz, which had previously housed a reception institution for Polish minors.

Now, in addition to the children, there is a group of volunteers setting up furniture, two cooks, and several teachers trying to make this building a home away from home.

“We would like to go back to Ukraine soon, but I don’t know,” Jowic says.

Irina Chosik, one of the caretakers, sticks by the side of younger children of the group and cannot hold back her tears either.

“We just want to go back to Ukraine, this is a nightmare, although the Poles have given us everything (…) I won’t forget how bombs started falling when the war began,” she says.

Jowic, meanwhile, urges the international community and especially Europe to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

“We need a no-fly zone so that children can leave Ukraine, we must stop the bombing to get children and women out,” she says, pointing out that the Russian forces do not distinguish between civilians and military targets in their attacks.

Jowic is accompanied by her grandson. She has two children, a 29-year-old military woman and a 30-year-old boy who joined the Ukrainian army after the Russian invasion was launched on February 24.

While both of her children are fighting Russian troops, she is taking care of her grandson.

“Just like they have the objective of defending Ukraine, my mission is to save the lives of these children,” she says.EFE


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