During spring of 2014 Sloviansk became the starting point for the flames of an armed conflict in Donbas. Neighbors, colleagues, friends and relatives stood on the opposite sides of the barricades and, as a result, many of them had become archenemies. It is difficult to imagine how the children, who were in the city during the time of occuppation, experienced this informational and later miitarized rage.
The events of the spring of 2014 were described by teenagers as the beginning of hostilities and artillery shelling; some recall the ideological and political confrontation that emerged among school students:
“We had that thing that the peers were divided, and ... constantly provoked conflicts inside their community. For example, saying that is my truth, I am right, and you are wrong ... they created two camps: “square” and “anti-Maidan”, but for children,” - says Evhen (name changed), who was studying at one of the schools in Sloviansk at that time.
Participants of the protest actions were also among the teenagers who studied at vocational schools: both pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian.
After the start of hostilities and shelling, educational institutions of the city had not been working as usual. Sometimes illegal armed formations built the barricades in a proximity to educational institutions. According to eyewitnesses, sometimes the distance from the checkpoints was around 120-200 meters. Many educational institutions also suffered from shelling. According to media reports, 13, 4, 16, 9 schools, boarding school, as well as a dormitory of the local university were destroyed. Children`s hospital, kindergartens, premises of the orphanage "Sails of Hope", the Protestant community "Good News" were also the targets for artillery attacks. The same story with orphanage №2 «Topoliok». There were cases when representatives of illegal armed groups used school premises as "headquarters".
According to the residents of the city, most often the children left Sloviansk with their parents for safer regions. Volunteers evacuated pupils of orphanages to the territory controlled by the government of Ukraine. There were also attempts to organize the evacuation to annexed Crimea. However, it was not always possible to protect the young residents of the city from the horrors of war.
The Health Department of Sloviansk City Council reported on 2 dead and 3 more wounded chldren during the occupation of the city. The once can find an information in open sources about 3 children who died in Sloviansk: of 6, 12 and 5 years.
Those, who were in the city during the shelling, shared their memories of those times: shells hitting houses, death of people, limited access to vital resources, persecution for political views.
“At the age of twelve, of course, it was difficult. [...] It was difficult for me, it was difficult for my parents, as well as for other people in this city. It was a living hell. When you know that this day four people will die in your city ... And you do not know for sure when the shelling starts or when the shell “will fall”,” - recalls Evhen.
There is an information about minors who joined the armed confrontation. During the monitoring study, Eastern Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives documented at least 15 cases of the participation of children in armed formations during the hostilites in the city. In addition, documentators noted 8 more references to groups of minors who took part in armed formations. These are children under the age of 18 who have been exposed to heightened danger by the combatants by engaging in illegal activities. However, not a single member of the armed formations was held accountable for these crimes.
The situation in the city remains tense even after the liberation of Sloviansk from the forces of the "DPR":
“The conflict is still there. I don't know how to actually get rid of those tension at all. Now we have "fifty-fifty". We have people who hate Ukraine, there are people who love it. I don't know how this conflict can be resolved. Of course, when we already have to communicate with someone, we try to look for common ground and look for constructive dialogue. But it's very difficult,” - says Polina (name changed), a local activist.
Young people believe that educational activities and the implementation of joint projects for the city play a significant role in achieving mutual understanding among children and adolescents. Young people with different political views do not hesitate to visit these events. They stay united by the willingness to change the city for the better.
“We have started "The Park" project, which united the youth. We wanted to create a place, where we could enjoy conversations with other young people, relax, and do some activities for leisure," - says an activist, one of the organizers of youth actions.
In a conflict situation, children and youth become one of the most vulnerable categories of the population, but at the same time they have a significant power and resource for achieving reconciliation and harmony in the future. Work with children and adolescents to overcome the consequences of conflict as well as creation of a positive environment for youth development in local communities, is a powerful tool for building peace in communities.