Sloviansk, Ukraine ( Associated Press) — Anastasia Alexandrova doesn’t even look from her cell phone as artillery roars echoed through the modest home the 12-year-old shares with her grandparents on the outskirts of Sloviansk in eastern Ukraine.
There are none of her age left in the neighborhood and classes have only been online since the Russian invasion, so video games and social media have replaced walks and bike rides with the friends they have left.
“He communicates less and goes for less walks. She usually stays at home playing games on her cell phone,” said 57-year-old Anastasia’s grandmother, Olena Alexandrova, of the shy girl who loves to paint and has a picture of a Siberian tiger hanging on her wall. room.
A retreat from digital technology, as Anastasia did to deal with the isolation and tensions of war on the front lines, only 12 kilometers (seven miles) away, is becoming more common among young people in the beleaguered region. Ukrainian from Donetsk.
Thousands of people have been moved to safer places and cities have been left almost empty, so that young people who suffer from loneliness and boredom, as a painful reflection of the fear and violence that Moscow has inflicted on Ukraine .
“I don’t have anyone to hang out with. I sit with my cell phone all day,” said Anastasia on the shore of the lake, where she sometimes swims with her grandparents. “My friends are gone and my life has changed. Because of this war, it got worse.”
According to the United Nations refugee agency, more than 6 million Ukrainians, mostly women and children, have fled the country and millions are displaced within Ukraine.
Mass displacement has disrupted countless childhoods, not only for those who have to start a new life in search of a safe place, but also for the thousands who have been left behind.
In the industrial city of Kramatorsk, 12 kilometers (seven miles) south of Sloviansk, the friendship between 19-year-old Roman Kovalenko and 18-year-old Oleksandr Pruzina grows closer as all their other friends have left the city.
Together the two teenagers walk around the almost deserted city or sit on park benches and talk. Both said they felt isolated from the social life before the war.
“It’s a completely different feeling when you go out. With hardly anyone on the streets, I feel like I’m in an apocalypse,” said Pruzina, who lost her job at a barbershop after the invasion and now spends most of her time at home playing computer games.
“I feel like everything I was going to do became impossible, everything fell apart in an instant,” he said.
Of the roughly 275,000 children aged 17 and under in the Donetsk region before the Russian invasion, only 40,000 remain, the province’s regional governor Pavlo Kirilenko told The Associated Press last week.
According to official figures, 361 children have been killed and 711 injured in Ukraine since Russia began the war on February 24.
Officials are still urging all families in Donetsk, but especially those with children, to evacuate immediately, as Russian forces continue to shell civilian areas in their campaign to control the region.
Kirilenko said a special group of police has been formed to contact families with children one by one and urge them to flee to safer areas.
“As a parent, I think that there should be no children in the Donetsk region,” he said. “It’s an active war zone.”
In Kramatorsk, 16-year-old Sofia Maria Bondar spends most of the day sitting in the shoes section of the clothing store where her mother works.
Sofia Maria, a pianist and singer who wants to study art at university after completing her senior year of high school, said she now had “nowhere to go and nothing to do” when her friends left. Huh.
“I wish I could travel back in time and make everything the way it was before. I understand that most of my friends who are gone will never come back, no matter what happens in the future. Can’t, just deal with it.”
Her mother Victoria said that since the city is almost empty, she can hardly sell one or two items a week.
But with attacks on the streets and the threat of soldiers, her daughter is no longer allowed to go out alone and spends most of her time with her mother in the store or at their home on the outskirts of Krematoresk, where there is a danger of attacks Rocket is low.
She said, “I carry him with me almost all the time, if anything happens, at least we’ll be together.”
According to the head of the local military administration, Oleksandr Goncharenko, only 3,200 of the approximately 18,000 schoolchildren left in Kramatorsk before the Russian invasion, including 600 preschool children.
Although officials continued to pressure neighbors to leave and give them information about transportation and accommodation, “parents cannot be forced to leave with their children,” Goncharenko said. When the school semester begins on September 1, he said, classes will be offered online for the occupants.
In a lush but almost deserted park in Kramatorsk, 14-year-old Rodion Kucheryan was stunting on his scooter across a fenced-off ramp, tube and railing that he owned only for himself.
Before the war, he said, he and his friends would perform stunts at the popular park along with several other children. But now, her only connection with her friends who have fled to countries like Poland and Germany is through social media.
He said that he has started doing other things to stay busy.
“Very sad not to see my friends. I haven’t seen my best friend in over four months,” he said. “I started pedaling at home so that he wouldn’t be missed so much.”
In Sloviansk, 12-year-old Anastasia said she doesn’t remember the last time she played with someone her age, but made new friends in the games she played online.
“Not the same. It is better to go out and play with your friends than to just talk on the Internet,” he said.
Her best friend, Yeva, lived across her street, but she moved with her family to Lviv, western Ukraine.
Anastasia wears a silver pendant around her neck, a half-broken heart with “love” written on it. And Yeva, he explained, carries the other half.
“I never take it off, and neither does Yeva,” he said.