The Christmas tree protected me from shrapnel after the explosion, says fourteen-year-old Sonia living on Eastern Ukraine front line

The Christmas tree protected me from shrapnel after the explosion, says fourteen-year-old Sonia living on Eastern Ukraine front line

It is Monday evening, and fourteen-year-old Sonia Kluyevi is sitting on the bed in the bedroom watching series on the television. She just finished her homework, hugged their dog, and now is holding her mobile phone. Like on that morning short after Christmas in 2015. That year Sonia asked her mother, Oksana, to let the Christmas tree stand a little bit longer. The electricity was not working for days as well as water. They had just come back to their house with Oksana, and Sonia was sitting in the living room trying to switch on the mobile phone to call grandpa. Suddenly it all started. "I heard an explosion somewhere there," she is pointing to their garden. "And then closer and closer..." We are sitting in the village of Verhnetoretskoe just 500 meters from the front line in Eastern Ukraine and Sonia thinks back on the worst day in her life.

"Instinct made me fall on the ground. While I was lying I heard a massive explosion and the glass from the windows showered the room," recalls Sonia. Her mother appeared in the room and told her to run to the basement in front of the house. "But I couldn’t we had a table here so I crawled under it. I asked mother to go under it as well, but she told me to go to the bathroom," says Sonia sitting in the room where everything happened. They were hiding in a small room and Oksana was washing her face from a bowl of water. "When I am too scared I can easily pass out. I looked into the bowl and it was full of stones from the ceiling," says Sonia describing the level of explosions shaking the whole house.

In few seconds father, Sergei, came into the room and instructed them to run immediately to the basement. "There was newly fallen snow on the ground and I was running barefoot. I sat down in the basement and started crying, my nerves were on edge," Sonia explains. "Neighbours gave me some sedatives and I fell asleep," she says and adds that only after a few hours she noticed that her head hurt because it was hit while hiding under the table.

We were covered by the rain of dust after explosion

After several hours of heavy shelling, they came out of the basement to see the destruction. The barn was totally damaged and there was no glass in a single window. Some holes from shells are visible until today as well as shrapnel pieces in the chimney and walls. "Back in the living room I realized that if the Christmas tree did not block the windows, the shrapnel could have easily hit me," Sonia describes how the tree probably saved her life.

Sometimes Sonia and her friend tried to forget the war playing the child games. "Once my friend and her little sister asked me to go to the willow because the tank was firing the rounds close by. We loved to walk around this tree," says Sonia. "We were already used to shelling in the distance, but we were not used to it next to us, so we went to be far from it," she adds. On the way to the beloved willow, they needed to pass the garden.

"We heard a whistle, a horrifying whistle. We were terrified and ran to the basement. The little girl fell down and we dragged her by her coat. After the explosion the rain of dust covered us," she recalls another story from childhood on the Ukraine front line. Her school in Verhnetoretskoe was damaged due to the fighting and Sonia stayed at home for some time. For several months she visited the school in Konstantinovka fifty kilometers away.

Nothing is like before the war

Step by step she realized that the war is not breaking just houses, cars and roads, but also friendships and families. "Many of my friends left the village. I do not think I will talk to some of them ever again. Yes, I made new friends in Konstantinovka, but I miss my old friends," says Sonia and adds that with teachers it is the same. "The best of them left, exactly those whom I liked. Some of them are in Kiev now," says the ninth grade student sadly while watching old photos of her parents in family album.

After all these experiences Sonia wants to forget the war, but the conflict is still ongoing close to her village and the sounds of war can be heard all the time. Almost nothing is like before. School is open again but on the way there, she must pass damaged houses and remnants of munitions along the road. The school building is surrounded by bags with sand to protect the windows against blast waves and shrapnel. Safe water must be delivered by water trucking to the school and one floor is occupied by the hospital, because the original hospital building was destroyed by fighting.

The war interrupted even some of the hobbies. "I have been dancing since the second grade. I just like it and I want to continue. When the war started there were no dance classes anymore and I had nothing to do," she says. "Four years ago I received a bead kit. It was new for me so I learned how to embroil flowers out of beads," Sonia describe her new interest holding the beautiful icon she finished recently in her hands.

Two more things that no war could take away from anyone will always stay with Sonia - memories and dreams. She remembers joint schools trips to Donetsk, Artemovsk, Yasynuvata or Ocheretino. "Every time we ate all the snacks immediately after boarding the bus. During the last trip to Ocheretino we were singing so loud that the bus was shaking," Sonia said smiling. Minutes later she is watching dreamily out of the repaired window in their house saying: "I wish the war will end. I want to learn normally and in the future I want to work as hairdresser."

Kluyevi family was supported in terms of ACCESS consortium (People in Need, Action Contre La Faim, Médecins du Monde, and ACTED in partnership with IMPACT Initiatives) funded by the EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations. They received a cash grant to support their livelihood. Sonia’s school is also receiving safe water because of this colaboration.

Author: Maria Lozan; Petr Stefan (PIN Communication Officers)