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‘Don’t deserve this:’ Ukraine’s orphanages bear brunt of war

LVIV, UKRAINE (NewsNation) — Children too young to comprehend Russia’s war in Ukraine are among those whose lives have been uprooted by the military invasion.

A toddler girl, about a year old, smiled Thursday as she aimlessly scrolled through a cellphone and squirmed in the arms of a volunteer at a Lviv orphanage.

“She’s smiling now, but in a second she can cry because someone went out and she wants to play,” said the 16-year-old volunteer named Julia.

Most of the children in this particular state-run shelter are too young to fully grasp the situation in Ukraine. Julia hopes it’s something they won’t remember when they’re older.

“It is horrible. It’s terrible and they don’t deserve this,” Julia said.

The Lviv orphanage has taken in 20 new children since Russian troops first invaded. They’ve managed to transport 10 children out of the country but are working to bring every child to safety. Some already have past trauma, which the war has only amplified, the orphanages’ executive director Svetlana said.

“It’s scary. When they arrive, you look at these children and they’re scared,” Svetlana said. “They’re shaking, screaming and hysterical, and don’t understand what’ happening here.

The war has brought adoption proceedings to a halt as most Ukrainian government offices and courts aren’t conducting business, according to the U.S. Bureau of Consular affairs.

For now, the children in Lviv are safe, but conflict in other parts of Ukraine has forced others to flee.

“We have everything we need here. We only need peace,” Svetlana said. “We need confidence in the future. We need your support to understand we’re not alone in this world.”

More than 200 children who were evacuated from an orphanage in Ukraine’s conflict zone arrived in the western city of Lviv on Saturday after a 24-hour train journey with their caregivers.

The 215 children, ranging from toddlers to teenagers, left their orphanage in Zaporizhzhia in southeast Ukraine on the day Russian troops attacked a nearby nuclear power station.

As night fell and the temperature plunged, the children waited patiently on a platform at Lviv train station, the older ones looking after the young, while orphanage staff carefully counted them all.

The very young clutched cuddly toys. None of the children cried or complained.

A separate train pulled into station in Zahony, Hungary, on March 2 carrying about 200 people with severe physical and mental disabilities. They were residents of two Kyiv orphanages for the disabled who were evacuated as Russian forces battered the city.

The disabled refugees, most of them children, disembarked from the train through the cold wind of the platform and into the arms of dozens of Poles and Hungarians waiting to receive them. From there, they were escorted to four waiting buses, sent from Poland by the Catholic relief organization Caritas.

Julia takes an encouraging tone with the children she cares for. Even when it appears they’re not listening, the teenager aims to gradually instill a sense of hope in the boys and girls at the orphanage.

“I realize that now they don’t understand me, but I hope that somewhere in the future they will remember my words in different bad situations,” she said. “For example, something will happen and they will remember ‘oh, that girl said that in every situation we can find a good helping hand’ or something like that,” Julia said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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