Dressed in snowpants and a turtleneck, 7-year-old Davyd looks as if he has just come in from playing outside. But when he speaks, his vocabulary reveals the dark reality of a childhood interrupted by war: “burned-out cars … checkpoints … shooting.” 

After heavy shelling began in Bucha, Ukraine, Davyd and his family spent a week hiding in the basement of their house. Davyd quickly learned to distinguish between the terrifying sounds of life under siege. “Once he mentioned that it was probably an air fighter flying overhead,” his mother, Yevgeniya, says. “When it was the shells flying by, he ran to the basement. He always knew when to hide.” 

Eventually the electricity went out, then the gas and the internet connection. The family decided it was time to evacuate. On March 10, they borrowed five liters of gas from a neighbor and set out for Kyiv, 35 miles away.

“When we were driving, we saw a lot of burned-out cars.” — Davyd, 7

“When we were driving, we saw a lot of burned-out cars,” says Davyd. “Some cars were shot at with children inside … When a plane was flying low, I felt something bad in my stomach. I threw up.”

“My son knew that we were attacked,” says Yevgeniya, 37. “It was stress, very serious stress. He was vomiting and feeling pain. My son was moaning for half a day, I think.”

The scariest part of the hours leading up to their evacuation, she says, was when they heard gunshots. “We were really afraid. We were frightened that they would come to our house and take us out. That’s what we heard from others.” 

“Some cars were shot at with children inside.” 

In Kyiv, the family found temporary shelter inside a church. But even there, they had to hide in the basement because of the constant threat of bombardment.

As war escalates in Ukrainechildren are witnessing things no child should see, and experiencing trauma that could last a lifetime. 

UNICEF is working with partners to help children get the psychosocial support and humanitarian assistance they need to survive and cope with the harsh realities of life under fire. 

Support UNICEF’s response to the war in Ukraine. Vulnerable children need help urgently. Please donate. 

Top photo: Recalling his family’s terrifying escape from the bombardment of Bucha, Ukraine, Davyd, 7, sits with his mother and uncle at a temporary shelter in a Kyiv church in March 2022. Since Feb. 24, 2 million children have been forced to leave Ukraine. © UNICEF/UN0617994/Boyko