Return to Ukraine: This feature is part of an original Milwaukee Independent editorial series that recorded news from areas across Ukraine, including Milwaukee's sister city of Irpin, from June to July of 2023. It was the second time in the span of a year that the award-winning Wisconsin news organization traveled to the country during the war. The purpose of this journalism project was to document a humanitarian aid mission by the Milwaukee-based nonprofit, Friends of Be an Angel, and report about conditions 17 months after Russia's brutal full-scale invasion.

At the very start of Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine in 2014, human rights activist Olena Rozvadovska was providing humanitarian aid to residents in Donbas. That experience inspired her to develop opportunities to rehabilitate injured children.

It was during the filming of A House Made of Splinters in 2019 that Ukrainian documentary filmmaker Azad Safarov and human rights activist Olena Rozvadovska created the Voices of Children Charitable Foundation. The organization provides psychological support and individual humanitarian aid to families, and works with institutions for children throughout the country.

“A House Made of Splinters” shows daily life in the Lysychansk Center for Psycho-Social Rehabilitation, where a group of social workers tries to create a safe environment for children to live, while government agencies and courts decide the future of those children.

“The Luhansk region has been divided by the frontline for more than six years. The situation in Lysychansk, where we shot the film, is largely typical of other cities in eastern Ukraine. Businesses and mines were closed, followed by high unemployment, social unrest, and problems related to hostilities,” said Rozvadovska, co-founder of the Voices of Children and local coordinator of the documentary.

Thanks to Rozvadovska’s connections, all the doors to the children’s world were opened for the film crew. The documentary was so well received that it was nominated for an Oscar at the 95th Academy Awards. Unfortunately, the 2023 winner for Documentary Feature Film went to “Navalny,” a film that followed the imprisoned Russian dissident Aleksei A. Navalny.

But as the result of Rozvadovska’s tireless efforts, Voices of Children became a driving force behind the idea that children of war need to have a safe, carefree, and happy childhood.

“Today, all children in Ukraine are children of war. Millions have been separated from their familiar environment. Tens of thousands are waiting for their parents to return from the frontlines. Thousands continue to live in dangerous conditions, in basements, shelters near the frontline, and in the territories occupied by Russia,” said Rozvadovska. “After all, childhood cannot be put on hold because of war. Life goes on. There is hope, and that’s what keeps us all going on.”

In the early days of her activism, Rozvadovska spent her own financial reserves and organized fundraising events to help children. Eventually, international initiatives began to contact Rozvadovska because they needed her help.

“When you are a single volunteer, you are just a single volunteer, you have two arms, two legs, one car, and one salary from which you can allocate funds for assistance,” said Rozvadovska. “And when people join you, you become a team and can become a greater force.”

The war in eastern Ukraine has done detrimental damage to residents living near the frontline. Voices of Children continues to help families with children throughout Ukraine, providing them with humanitarian, psychological, rehabilitation, and advocacy support.

On the anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Rozvadovska was able to publish the book War through the Voices of Children. It contains nearly 100 emotional quotes that demonstrate children’s paradoxical view of war.

“I love the school because it has become my family. That’s why I want to help it. I will try very hard to do everything. We need a bomb shelter so that we can study offline. This project is necessary to come back to live communication.” – Taisia, a 14-year-old girl from Kharkiv

“When they shoot, I run home. I think they can hit our apartment.” – Arseniy, a young boy living near the frontline in Donetsk region

“I did not want the war to start and take away the dads of Ukraine.” – Polina, a 5-years-old girl

“Let’s go home, I’m tired of this game.” – Bella, a 4-year-old girl, after staying in a bomb shelter for a long time

“Sweetie, what are you doing?” – a mother asks her daughter playing with dolls. “I’m hiding my kids from the sirens.” – Yelyzavetka, a 4-year-old girl

“I see that your mother will die. Then you’ll be adopted by a foster family. They’ll make you a slave.” – Sasha, using an improvised crystal ball to read the future of her friend Alina

Designers, artists, photographers, and celebrities from different parts of the world illustrated the quotes. Among those who participated in creating visuals were illustrators Nikita Titov, Serhii Maidukov, Oleksandr Grekhov, Iryna Vale, singer Jamala and her son Rahman, singer Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, and chef Yevhen Klopotenko.

“These children are witnesses of today’s events, and have their own thoughts and observations about the war,” added Rozvadovska. “It is important for us to record this time in their quotes so as not to forget the price they paid in Ukraine’s future.”

Anya Verkhovskaya, Director of Friends of Be an Angel, met with Rozvadovska in late June during her team’s humanitarian visit to Kyiv. As a result, early plans are underway to bring the interactive photo exhibit associated with the book “War through the Voices of Children” to Milwaukee.

Each image from the collection features a QR Code, that links to an audio file recorded by a child talking about their war experience.

© PHOTO NOTE: All the original editorial images published here have been posted to That Facebook collection of photos contains the Milwaukee Independent copyright and watermark for attribution, and may be used for private social media sharing. Do not download and repost images directly from this page.
Series: Return to Ukraine

Lее Mаtz

Milwaukee Independent has reported on Russia’s brutal full-scale invasion of Ukraine since it began on February 24, 2022. In May of 2022, Milwaukee Independent was the first news organization from Wisconsin to report from Milwaukee’s Sister City of Irpin after its liberation. That work has since been recognized with several awards for journalistic excellence. Between late June and early July of 2023, Milwaukee Independent staff returned to Ukraine for a second assignment to report on war after almost a year. The editorial team was embedded with a Milwaukee-based nonprofit, Friends of Be an Angel, on a humanitarian aid mission across Ukraine. For several weeks, Milwaukee Independent documented the delivery of medical supplies to military and civilian hospitals, and was a witness to historic events of the war as they unfolded.

Return to Ukraine: Reports about a humanitarian mission from Milwaukee after a year of war