In the small village of Hnutove, in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, a young Ukrainian boy is growing up with his brother Jarik and their grandmother Alexandra. Their daily life is punctuated by the roaring blast of explosions. The boys are able to recognize the different types of sirens, they play with guns and they swim in dark lake waters.
The 2014 conflict between the Ukrainian Army and pro-Russian separatists has driven most of the local population out of the village, but still the small family chose to stay behind. “Our souls are rooted in this house,” the grandmother says on camera, before quoting a Ukrainian proverb “Every dog is a lion in its own house.”
No one knows what has become of them except perhaps for Danish director Simon Lereng Wilmont, who shot the 2017 documentary film “The Distant Barking of Dogs.” Wilmont picked Oleg, back then just 10 years old, as his protagonist because he was the only child that could answer the question “How do you feel when you are afraid?”
“When the machine guns start firing, it is like an invisible hand is grabbing my chest and squeezing my heart. And with each explosion, the hand tightens my heart more, until in the end it is as if I have an icy pellet inside my chest,” Oleg said.
Dozens of children and grandmothers have over the past few days been giving similar answers to journalists in Ukraine. Whether these people lived in Mariupol, Kharkiv or Kyiv, they did not want to flee. After the Russian invasion, we saw thousands of people crossing the borders, by car or on foot, into Slovakia, Poland and Hungary in search of safety.
According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, more than 100,000 Ukrainians were internally displaced within the first 18 hours of the Russian military campaign, while at least 10,000 people fled the country.
Analysts say millions will be displaced by the invasion, notwithstanding the fact that the Ukrainian people are deemed to be used to hardship. Ukraine has a population of 44 million. Or it did have. A tragedy without end is unfolding live on televisions around the globe.