A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
Were axioms to him, who’d never heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept.
— W.H. Auden, “The Shield of Achilles”
Wednesday is International Day for the Protection of Children in many former Soviet countries — a joyful celebration typically marked by concerts, outdoor games and arts and crafts.
In Ukraine, it’s a Children’s Day like no other. On Friday, the country will mark the grim milestone of 100 days since the Russian invasion. During that time, at least 262 children have been killed and 415 injured in wartime strikes, according to UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency, which cited confirmed figures that the United Nations acknowledges are incomplete and much lower than the actual tolls.
Ukrainian officials have said there is little cause to celebrate. The war has left 5.2 million children in need of humanitarian assistance, according to UNICEF, and has disrupted children’s lives and education.
“This year, Children’s Day in Ukraine is celebrated in a different way than usual,” Daria Herasymchuk, an adviser to Ukraine’s president on children’s rights and rehabilitation, said Wednesday, according to the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.
In wartime, children “are forced to hide from the bombing in shelters, in the subway,” Herasymchuk said during a news briefing. “They are forced to leave their homes and seek shelter in safe regions.”
But despite the war, towns and cities across Ukraine still marked the occasion Wednesday — though it looked different than usual.
In the western city of Lviv, the mayor, Andriy Sadovy, posted photos of abandoned school buses, stuffed animals, name tags and backpacks on empty seats, during what Reuters described as an event marking the death of 243 children during the war.
“A school trip that will never happen,” Sadovy wrote in a Facebook post, using the hashtag #emptybuses.
“Today, the school buses on Ploshcha Rynok [Lviv’s central square] are empty,” he wrote, adding that “243 children will never travel to Lviv again.” He accused Russian forces of “killing children, women and civilians” and continued: “They must be held responsible for every life taken. Today, the whole world must unite to stop these terrible crimes.”
It was not immediately clear whether Sadovy’s figure of 243 referred to children killed in Lviv or more widely in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, soldiers from Ukraine’s army posed with drawings and stuffed animals in a video message for Children’s Day posted on the Defense Ministry’s Twitter account.
“We expect that you know what we do,” the soldiers say in the video. “We defend our native country. And … it is always very important for us to receive support from you, like these kinds of self-made items, pretty drawings and poems. So send them to us. Together, we will pray for our state.”
The video then zooms in on some of the drawings, which bear messages such as “Ukraine will be able to do anything” and “The enemy will not pass.”
In Bucha, where Russian forces were accused of committing war crimes during their month-long occupation of the quiet suburb of Kyiv, photos showed children making “embroidered hearts and paper birds for soldiers on the front line,” according to the Getty photo service.
Most of the 5.2 million children who need humanitarian assistance have been displaced by fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces, the agency said. On average, the conflict in Ukraine kills at least two children and injures at least four each day, UNICEF and the U.N. agency for refugees said in a news release. It said the casualties occurred “mostly in attacks using explosive weapons in populated areas,” an oblique reference to bombardment by Russia, which went unmentioned in the news release.
“June 1st is International Day for the Protection of Children in Ukraine and across the region,” UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said in Wednesday’s release. “Instead of celebrating the occasion, we are solemnly approaching June 3 — the 100th day of a war that has shattered the lives of millions of children.”
Russell called for “an urgent cease-fire and negotiated peace” to end the war, without which she warned that “children will continue to suffer — and fallout from the war will impact vulnerable children around the world.”
Source: Annabelle Timsit, “As Ukraine marks Children’s Day, U.N. says 5 million need humanitarian aid,” Washington Post, 1 June 2022. Photos of the late-Soviet or early-post-Soviet-era pro-children, anti-war mural in the courtyard of the residential buildings at the corner of Borovaya Street and the Obvodny Canal in St. Petersburg taken by the Russian Reader on 28 May 2016.
International Day for the Protection of Children is celebrated annually on June 1. Established in November 1949 in Paris by decision of the Congress of the Women’s International Democratic Federation, it was first celebrated in 1950. In addition, World Children’s Day (November 20), International Day of Innocent Child Victims of Aggression (June 4) and African Children’s Day (June 16) are dedicated to children. In terms of international law, the principal relevant document is the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the UN on November 20, 1989 and ratified by the USSR on July 13, 1990.
The rights of children in the Russian Federation are protected by the Federal Law “On Basic Guarantees of the Rights of the Child in the Russian Federation,” adopted on July 24, 1998. It guarantees the basic rights and legitimate interests of children as stipulated in the Constitution of the Russian Federation. The State recognizes that childhood is an important stage of human life and prioritizes preparing children for a full-fledged life in society, encouraging them to engage in socially significant and creative activity, and inculcating them with lofty moral qualities, patriotism, and civic consciousness. Russia has a system of local child protection services, which are tasked with monitoring the well-being of children in families in their jurisdictions, as well as local and federal commissioners for children’s rights.
Abortion opponents have chosen this day to hold events in defense of the right of unborn children to life. In various countries of the world (e.g., the USA, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Belarus, etc.), they gather on or around June 1 to draw the the general public’s attention to the problem of abortion.
Anti-abortion events have also been held [on this day] in Russia, including a car rally, a procession, a march, a rally, prayer services, pickets, film screenings and discussions, informational leafletting, and suspension of abortions by medical institutions.
In 2016, Patriarch Kirill marked International Day for the Protection of Children with a special appeal to make donations to support women in crisis situations. On May 29, the last Sunday of the month, his appeal was read aloud in every church and [churchgoers were asked to donate] money for the creation of humanitarian aid centers [sic] for women expecting children. The fundraising campaign, which took place throughout the country, garnered 38 million rubles, which were earmarked for the creation of the new humanitarian aid centers.
Source: “International Day for the Protection of Children” (Russian), Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader