As their parents refuse to evacuate, these Ukrainian children grow up on the front line (Photos)

Since the summer of 2023, local Ukrainian authorities announced the mandatory evacuation of families with children from multiple front-line areas due to the intensification of hostilities.

The orders apply to several districts in Kharkiv Oblast, which borders Russia and has been heavily bombarded throughout the full-scale invasion, and the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, which has been the theater of some of the heaviest battles of the Russian war.

Despite that, some parents continue to refuse to evacuate, whether out of fear of leaving their property or the familiar surroundings, due to having elderly relatives who need care and refuse to move, or other reasons.

Dependent on the parents, some children are forced to grow up on the front line, amid endless air raid alerts and sounds of bombardment.

In November 2023, photographer and now a member of Ukraine's Armed Forces Kostiantyn Huzenko spent time with volunteer organizations supporting children who remain near the front line in Kharkiv and Donetsk oblasts to document what it's like to grow up on the front line.

Once vibrant cities like Kupiansk and Kramatorsk have come to a standstill due to the full-scale Russian invasion. Children in cities like these face a monotonous existence: They attend online classes, play near their homes where their parents can see them, and have few friends, as many have fled.

Tasia helps at the cash register of her mother's store in the front-line city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 21, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
Tasia helps at the cash register of her mother's store in the front-line city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 21, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
Mykyta chops firewood to heat their new temporary home in the front-line village of Tetianivka, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 29, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
Mykyta chops firewood to heat their new temporary home in the front-line village of Tetianivka, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 29, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
Brothers Mykyta and Denys and their mother in the front-line town of Kupiansk, Kharkiv Oblast, on Nov. 12, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
Brothers Mykyta and Denys and their mother in the front-line town of Kupiansk, Kharkiv Oblast, on Nov. 12, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
A room in an administrative building used for the distribution of humanitarian aid on the outskirts of front-line town Kupiansk, Kharkiv Oblast, on Nov. 12, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
A room in an administrative building used for the distribution of humanitarian aid on the outskirts of front-line town Kupiansk, Kharkiv Oblast, on Nov. 12, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
Art classes for children held by the Base UA volunteers in the front-line city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 26, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
Art classes for children held by the Base UA volunteers in the front-line city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 26, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
A child holds an artificial cloud during an art class for children held by the Base UA volunteers in the front-line city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 26, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
A child holds an artificial cloud during an art class for children held by the Base UA volunteers in the front-line city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 26, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
Tasia during her dance class at one of the few remaining facilities for children in the front-line city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 28, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
Tasia during her dance class at one of the few remaining facilities for children in the front-line city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 28, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
Volunteers put up hardboards on the windows after the building used for distributing humanitarian aid was damaged in the attack in the village of Tetianivka, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 23, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
Volunteers put up hardboards on the windows after the building used for distributing humanitarian aid was damaged in the attack in the village of Tetianivka, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 23, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
The central square of the front-line city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 28, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
The central square of the front-line city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 28, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
Sofia and her parrot in the front-line city of Kostiantynivka, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 25, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
Sofia and her parrot in the front-line city of Kostiantynivka, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 25, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
Mykyta studies with a volunteer in the house where his family moved from the destroyed Bohorodichne to Tetianivka, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 23, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
Mykyta studies with a volunteer in the house where his family moved from the destroyed Bohorodichne to Tetianivka, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 23, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
The writing on the wall in the volunteer hub Terikon reads "Sasha, Margo, Katya, Me" in the front-line city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 26, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
The writing on the wall in the volunteer hub Terikon reads "Sasha, Margo, Katya, Me" in the front-line city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 26, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
The front-line city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 28, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)
The front-line city of Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, on Nov. 28, 2023. (Kostiantyn Huzenko / The Kyiv Independent)

This project was created with the support of the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers and the International Press Institute.


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