These images are symbolic of the terror Russia inflicts on millions of Ukrainian children every day.
The first of September is traditionally the school enrollment day in Ukraine. And so did little Alex, who had been looking forward to this day like a snow king for weeks. Buy school books, try on pens and try on the best clothes the day before.
Everything could have been so beautiful.
If not Russia’s brutal war, dictator Vladimir Putin has been waging over his neighbor for the past 18 months.
Because Alex’s father, Mark, is defending his country. For months he has been fighting on the Donetsk front and taking part in the Ukrainian counter-offensive. But not in the last nine days, Papa Mark has had a long vacation from the front for the first time this year.
“I was so happy that Alex’s last day was his first day of school at home,” his mother Alina tells BILD. “It’s a happy coincidence that he’s still there today,” says Alina.
But it’s too much for six-year-old Alex, who already understands that his father is risking his life for him, his mother, and his country.
Shortly before Mom and Dad left for school in the morning, Alex burst into tears and held onto Dad, not wanting to let go. He knew that father had to take the train after the school entrance ceremony. He was to return with his unit at 3 p.m.
Dad has to go back to war. Alex was devastated. “He has had a war since he was four. He didn’t want to talk about it, now he understands it better and is very upset,” says mother Alina.
Wanting to capture the heartbreaking scene, his mother grabs her phone and snaps a blurry snapshot. She tweeted, partly in disbelief, partly in anger: “September 1st morning. 1st grade. It’s supposed to be a holiday, but dad goes to work…boy cries, ‘Daddy’s not back!’ Damn war! I hate it!”
Later in the day she tells Bild: “It’s sad. Alex needs his father. Like any child. But he doesn’t have him.” When asked when she and her son will see her husband and father again, Alina shrugs with tears in her eyes and presses: “We don’t know.”
Putin’s war haunts the family
The family has been torn apart by Putin’s war for eight years. He lived in Horlivka until Russia’s pseudo-separatists invaded in 2015 and brought it under Kremlin control.
At that point he fled to Gramadores, 60 kilometers away, and lived there until the spring of 2022, but Putin’s appetite for land in the west remains unsatisfied.
On February 24, 2022, the Russian army continued to advance and bombarded Kramatorsk with everything they had. Alina and her family had to leave again. This time in the extreme west of Ukraine. It was clear to the husband that he had to protect his motherland. Mark volunteered for the army.
Months later, the eastern side stabilized and the family returned there. Today Alina and Alex live in the Dnipro region, about 100 kilometers north of the front. Father Mark continues to struggle. “As long as it is,” Alina protests.
Alina is a teacher and works at the same school where her son Alex is now studying. She tells Bild: “After his first day of school, Alex sat in my fourth grade class and had to wait for me to finish at 3:00 p.m. so we could go home together.”
Without father! Because he was already back at war.
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