Four teenage girls sit on chairs, holding one another's hands. Sparkes of glitter mix with tears under their eyes. A movie screen towers behind their backs and an audience of journalists sits before them. 

They are some of the youngest victims of Russia’s war in Ukraine – dating back to well before the full-scale invasion of 2022. But they are now heroes, presenting a movie they made together titled “What We Lost.” It’s a piece which has helped to heal their own trauma of war through the medium of storytelling.

The movie spans 13 minutes of children's reflections on the war. Twelve teenagers from different regions of Ukraine who witnessed various traumatic events attended online screenwriting classes organized by the “Voices of Children” Charitable Foundation. 

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With the help of professional moviemakers and a psychologist, they learned how to write scripts and live their personal stories through them. At the end of the course, the children met in person in the Carpathians and created a short movie based on their reflections on their own stories.

“I lost my home and my family – everything a child can have at the age of seven,” now 17-year-old Sofia Kalinich, one of the film's authors and actors, tells Kyiv Post. 

“When my mum, brother and I moved from Yenakiieve, Donetsk region, to Poltava region, I was eight. My dad stayed because of his side of the family. Before 2014, we were a full family; now no. I had my own home – now I live in somebody else's house. I had my school, friends, family – now that’s all changed.”

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In the movie, Sofia’s voice talks about nine years of war, with uniformed soldiers brandishing machine guns standing beside her school. Wandering around half-ruined buildings, playing ball, building a house where the walls are represented by the children and the roof is their arms – every scene represents their loss and every experience they went through aims to help them to get through that loss.

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“This is a film for everyone,” another film protagonist, 16-year-old Valeriia Volodymyrivna from Kryvyi Rih, tells Kyiv Post.

"Adults need to understand that children should be allowed to express their feelings. Children experience this war perhaps more intensely and are more traumatized than adults. And for foreign viewers, this is an opportunity not to forget about the war."

Valeriia was forced to evacuate with her family from Kryvyi Rih in March 2022. Her main loss was her sense of security, peace of mind, and an understanding of the future. Valeriia believes that real and true visual stories, as in “What We Lost,” should show the world what is happening to children in Ukraine.

“From the very beginning of the war, since 2014, our task has been to make children's voices heard so that other people can remind themselves who we are fighting for and what really matters,” Olena Rozvadovska, 39-year-old Head of “Voices of Children” Charitable Foundation, told Kyiv Post. 

“These children, teenagers, need creative unions because they don't communicate with each other very much. They have lost their social skills – because of COVID and because of the war.”

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Olena says that psychologists from the “Voices of Children” foundation are in huge demand and work with about 1,000 children a month. And they see the tendency towards teenage loneliness, which can develop into self-harm and suicide. To avoid it, her foundation develops creative group projects combining art and psychotherapy. 

“Of course, at the end of the movie, we talk about what we have found – one other and like-minded people,” concludes Sofiia in a conversation with Kyiv Post.

“I hope this film will be seen by children or adults who have also lost something. In the war, everything has limits, and children especially. We need support., God forbid what is happening here today happening somewhere else tomorrow. We need to help each other.”

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