Children from Kharkiv, who survived the Russian bombs, found refuge in Italy

CUSAGO, Italy: “If I have to die, I will die. But I would have a happy life, I had to visit Disneyland in Paris, then Berlin and Sicily “: under the bombs in Kharkov in eastern Ukraine, 16-year-old Vika recalled past trips with an Italian host family.

When the anti-aircraft sirens sounded, she hid in the underground of the school, where she wrapped herself in a sleeping bag, trying in vain to fall asleep. To kill time, she introduced her companions to Burraco, an Italian card game.

The nightmare ended on the night of March 7 at 2 am when she returned to her stuffed room at her Italian family’s home in Kuzago near Milan, after a long and tiring train and bus journey, thanks to the I Bambini dell association. Est “(” Children of the East “).

Founded in 2010 to help the Chornobyl Children, who came to Italy and other European countries, breathe clean air, the association has expanded its admission programs to young people from orphanages, such as Vika.

Intensive fighting has been going on in Kharkiv since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “We heard shots and sounds of rockets and saw pillars of black smoke. Many buildings were destroyed, such as our cinema, all the windows were broken, ”says Vika, still shocked.

– Escape from the orphanage –

Victoria Shakshina came to Kuzago twice a year, three months in summer and one month in winter, from the age of nine. A stay that allowed him to escape from an orphanage in Kharkiv, where children separated from their parents due to delinquency, alcohol or instability were placed.

Round face, wide smile, Vika does not see her future in Ukraine: “my home is here, I want to finish school and go to university,” she says in almost perfect Italian, looking at her 47-year-old foster mother Michele Slomp. -year graphic designer.

Vika was not born in 1986, when one of the four reactors of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, releasing millions of radio elements into the air, equivalent to the intensity of at least 200 bombs on Hiroshima.

“Our children were not directly affected by the disaster, but we are sure that there is always radiation in the soil and in the vegetables,” explains Federica Bezzikeri, president of I Bambini dell’Est.

Since the war began, his phone has been ringing day and night. On the other hand, Italian families are desperately trying to reach their adopted children, or young Ukrainians who are trying to escape.

“We are living a live war. During the video call to the children, we hear the sound of shelling. And on television, I recognize the ruined places where we stopped in Kharkiv, “she said, leaning over the computer in her apartment in Milan.

– Dig trenches –

“The girls say they only have to walk a hundred meters down the street to find the dead. And the guys signed up as volunteers, filling sandbags or digging trenches, ”she explains.

“Some young people say it’s better to risk being injured or killed helping your country than to die like a rat in a cage in the basement of a building.” To date, the association has managed to transport 280 refugees to Italy.

The Italian family of 20-year-old Yana Aliyeva returned her from Kharkov in January, before the invasion, to her apartment in Milan, where the blue and yellow flag of Ukraine hangs on the balcony. “We felt war was coming,” said his foster mother, Carla Marini, a 56-year-old engineer.

“I have a broken heart, my world is gone, my boyfriend and my friends lived in basements under bombs before I moved to safe areas, I’m afraid for those who stayed,” said Yana, who is also raised in an orphanage.

Black hair, thin features, a young Ukrainian woman does not hide her anger: before the war, “we were all one, Russians and Ukrainians as one people.” But now “they call us + Nazis + and we see who they really are.”

A student of literature, she is currently studying at the Catholic University of Milan. But she intends to return to Ukraine when the war is over and “participate in the reconstruction” of her city to “make it even more beautiful.”

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