Childhood on pause after high-rise collapses from rocket fire in Ukraine

Friday, March 22, 2024
Childhood on pause after high-rise collapses from rocket fire in Ukraine


It’s a cold autumn day. Sofiya* sits on an outdoor bench in a rehabilitation centre in western Ukraine. The girl is in a second round of physical rehabilitation aimed at restoring, improving and stabilizing the functional capabilities of her legs, which were severely injured in a rocket attack in her hometown.  


Childhood on pause


In early 2023, a year after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Sofiya’s hometown in eastern Ukraine was viciously attacked with rocket fire. A nearby high-rise collapsed, throwing rubble over Sofiya’s home. At least one child died, and many were trapped and injured. Sofiya was one of them. 


Rescuers found Sofiya in critical condition. The girl was crushed under a concrete slab, causing severe blood loss. Both her legs were so badly injured that the rescuers couldn’t lift her up at once. 


Sofiya spent five months in the hospital, completely immobile and without a will to live. 


Sparks of hope


Sofiya is with her mom in the rehabilitation centre. “When Sofiya got injured, my heart broke into a million pieces, but I knew I had to stay strong to give all my strength to my little girl. She laid in the hospital telling me: ‘Mom, I don’t want to live.’” Sofiya’s mom abruptly stops speaking. Her eyes fill with tears, and her throat chokes. She looks away, swallowing her tears. 


“That was my catastrophe. I saved my sadness for my lonely moments. When Sofiya was awake, I focused on giving her all my strength to lift her up mentally and physically. I knew she needed all my strength to regain hers so she could begin to get up, to start walking and become healthy again.” 


In late spring 2023, with financial help from SOS Children’s Villages, Sofiya came to the rehabilitation centre for the first time - in a wheelchair. Throughout this first treatment, the girl started using a walker and then began walking with crutches.  


Now, mid-way through the second treatment, Sofiya can walk while only occasionally leaning on her mom. She has a severe limp that slows her movements, but her eyes are sparkling with joy only children have. 


Not giving up


“Fifty-fifty,” the ten-year-old grins and wrinkles her nose when asked if she likes school. “I’m not really a big fan of school.” Sofiya is in the fifth grade and attends online. Her schooling, along with her childhood, has been severely interrupted by the war.  


She explains that she didn’t like the first four grades of school. She started school in person but had to switch to online because of the pandemic and then the war. Now, in grade five, her classes are different and more challenging because she has new subjects and a different teacher for each subject.  


“There are some good things about school,” Sofiya says while nodding and recounting what she likes. “I like drawing and painting. I like to glue paper. I like to draw people, but faces are a bit problematic for me. Luckily, I’m quite persistent, so I keep drawing faces and know I’ll get it right.” 


Back to her child-like self


“I also like to play games on the mobile phone with my school friends. That counts as school, right?” Sofiya asks, laughing. “Roblox, that’s where we’re at most of the time,” she continues laughing. The mobile phone, a laptop to help with her online schooling, and some seasonal clothing were provided by SOS Children’s Villages. 


Mom smiles with a sigh. “I let her play because that’s the only time she gets to spend with her school friends that can count as socializing. When she was laying in the hospital with her legs all in screws and rods, Sofiya hadn’t seen or been in contact with her friends for five months.”  


Mom tears up again, then continues: “It took time to lift her spirits, but now she’s back to her real self. Sofiya is quite an independent student, and I help her only when I notice she is struggling. I see that she mostly needs help with English and mathematics. I’d be happier if English and mathematics were her biggest problems right now.” 


Sofiya will run again!



“Oh, I forgot,” Sofiya jumps back into the conversation. “I also like to draw cats and dogs, especially dogs. And I want to have a dog too. A Jack Russel Terrier like hero dog Patron. My dog will be faithful, useful and brave, just like Patron. Mom says I can have a dog like that when I finish therapy, and I’m healthy enough to walk the dog. I know Jack Russel Terriers are very energetic. You can’t walk such a dog, you need to run it,” Sofiya laughs and adds: “I want to run. Again.” 


Hero dog Patron is a detection dog and mascot for the State Emergency Service of Ukraine. Patron has found 236 unexploded ordinances left behind by Russian troops.  


Mom says Sofiya is a pure-hearted girl who will surely succeed in life. “Businesswoman, I will be a successful businesswoman, mom!” Sofiya says proudly. “I know I need to study well, but I also need to learn other things, like how to play Uno,” Sofiya winks. “I just don’t have the cards for the game.” 


The little girl's giggles make her mom smile. “After everything Sofiya has been through, after everything our family has been through, I don’t have much strength left in me. I tell my girl that now she has to fight for herself and be strong for her future. I know she’ll do it. Sofiya will run again.” 


*Name changed to protect privacy 


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