2019.08.13 09:00

Youths from Ukraine's war zone spend summer in Lithuania

Several dozen children and teenagers from war-torn eastern Ukrainian regions have been spending their summer in Lithuania. One group is in a camp with the young members of the Riflemen's Union, while another group of young Ukrainians is attending workshops on documentary filmmaking.

“History, which is happening now, needs to be archived, because we don't know what will happen in the future. Things may change in 20 years, or perhaps stay the same for 200,” says Artemy Bondarenko, one of the Ukrainian participants in the documentary camp.

His family comes from Luhansk, one of the regions partly controlled by Russian-supported separatists.

“My parents and I left, but my grandparents stayed in Luhansk, they didn't want to leave their home and everything they had. When finally they did want to leave, it was impossible,” Artemy tells LRT TV.

His grandmother, he says, has never travelled far from home and has probably gotten used to living in a war zone.

Lithuania has been hosting children from Donbass for summer holidays since 2014 when a war broke out between the Ukrainian government forces and separatist fighters supported by Russia.

Petras Vaitiekūnas, Lithuania's former ambassador in Kyiv, says he initially struggled to find participants, but interest grew and eventually people themselves would approach the embassy about going to Lithuania.

Ukrainian youngsters come to Lithuania to rest, to travel around the country, or to take part in workshops. Twenty-two youths participated in the documentary filmmaking camp this summer.

“We are learning how to make documentaries and take photographs, we also write diaries,” according to Vladislava Rezunova.

She says she likes Lithuania which feels like home, very similar to places in Ukraine.

Summer camps are organised by various Lithuanian NGOs as well as government institutions, and not all of them are for children. About 40 adults, mostly soldiers from the occupied territories, come to spend time in Lithuania each year.

“Lithuania takes in a number of soldiers for rehabilitation each year, there are right now 200 who have started treatment programmes,” says Marius Janukonis, Lithuania's ambassador in Ukraine. “It is an important part of our support for soldiers fighting for their country's freedom.”

It is estimated that over 13,000 people have perished in the war in Donbass over the last five years. A fourth of them were civilian casualties.