In the shadow of war

An intimate photo series by award-winning photographers highlights the devastating impact of conflict on children's lives

When searching for hope in a desperate situation we look to the sky.

For children in conflict zones - often reacting to the sounds of shelling, planes or gunfire - the sky becomes both a symbol of hope and of potential danger.

To mark World Children's Day, photographers Jim Huylebroek, Oksana Parafeniuk and Hugh Kinsella Cunningham worked with six children from Ukraine, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to document the impact of conflict on their lives.

In the resulting photo series, portraits and reportage of the children they met are combined with photos of the sky above them, representing the shadow war casts over their childhood and their determination, despite everything, to look up.

UKRAINE

Olha,* 6

Six-year-old Olha lives with her mother Valentyna* and sister Marina* in a town on the frontline of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

When she was just three years old Olha almost lost her life and her best friend Boris*, a nine-year-old boy, lost four fingers when they picked up a mine in the street thinking it was a whistle.

Boris’s fingers were severed in the explosion, and Olha suffered severe injuries to her stomach and hand. Her thumb was severed and the shrapnel that had pierced her abdomen was later removed during emergency surgery.

Olha had to travel for four hours to the nearest functioning hospital. Although doctors managed to save her life, she now lives with a colostomy bag as the shrapnel ruptured her intestines.

Olha, who loves to draw, dreams of being many things when she grows up, a dancer, a cook, a police officer and a doctor. She visits Save the Children’s community centre in the town where she takes part in their education and social activities.

A portrait of Olha

A portrait of Olha

A photo of the sky taken by Olha

A photo of the sky taken by Olha

Olha, 6, at school in a town on the contact line, Donetsk region, Ukraine

Olha, 6, at school in a town on the contact line, Donetsk region, Ukraine

A damaged residential building in Donetsk region, Ukraine

A damaged residential building in Donetsk region, Ukraine

Olha, 6, walking home after being dropped off by a school bus

Olha, 6, walking home after being dropped off by a school bus

ROMAN,* 17

"After it exploded, I was in shock, I didn't feel anything"

Roman is 17 years old and lives with his grandparents in a village on the “contact line” between Donetsk People's Republic-controlled territory and Ukrainian government- controlled territory.

When he was just twelve years old, Roman was walking through his vegetable garden when he stepped on a trip wire attached to an unexploded bomb. He suffered critical injuries to his legs and ear and spent over three weeks in hospital to recover.

He says he was in shock after the bomb exploded and couldn’t feel anything. But when he got home he was covered in blood.

Roman lost both his parents in recent years and now cares for his elderly grandparents at their home on the frontline. His father died of heart failure and more recently, just two years ago, he lost his mother to cancer.

Six years into the conflict, Roman and his family have grown used to the constant threat of shelling and gunshots. When the war started, they were all sheltering in basements during the fighting, but now they know where the bullets are coming from and are less afraid.

A portrait of Roman

A portrait of Roman

A photo of the sky taken by Roman

A photo of the sky taken by Roman

A damaged electrical tower on the outskirts of a village in Donetsk region, Ukraine

A damaged electrical tower on the outskirts of a village in Donetsk region, Ukraine

Roman looking at his laptop at his grandparents house

Roman looking at his laptop at his grandparents house

AFGHANISTAN

SHOGOFA,* 14

"I was sitting there; my brothers had died and my face was bleeding. I was crying and crying."

Shogofa is nine years old and from Fayrab province in Afghanistan. Her house was hit by a rocket during fighting in her hometown and was forced to flee to a camp in Mazar province with her family.

During the attack she was critically wounded, suffering severe head injuries and losing several of her fingers in the blast. The incident killed three of her brothers and her mother still suffers from mental illness due to the trauma of what she witnessed.

She describes her family as having had “everything” in Fayrab province. They had a home and she enjoyed playing with her friends.

Now they live in a tent in a small dusty plain in Mazar province, sleeping and living in one tent with her mother, father, sisters and remaining brothers.

Shogofa's hand was injured when a rocket hit her home

Shogofa's hand was injured when a rocket hit her home

A settlement near Mazar-e Sharif

A settlement near Mazar-e Sharif

A portrait of Shogofa, with her father Shokrullah*, mother Arezo* and sisters Toba* and Fatima*

A portrait of Shogofa, with her father Shokrullah*, mother Arezo* and sisters Toba* and Fatima*

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Victoire,* 15

10-year old Victoire was forced to flee her home when armed groups attacked her village.

She walked for miles to find safety, crossing treacherous rivers and seeing many people who’d been killed along the way.

When they finally arrived at a camp, she had nothing but the clothes on their backs. She was thankful to be given food to eat but was still hungry. She hopes that one day the war will end so that they can safely return their village.

Victoire dreams of one day becoming a teacher, but most of all she wishes for the war to end so that she and her family can return home.

Victoire is part of a Save the Children programme in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where displaced children are encouraged to go back to school.

More than 13 million people in the DRC depend on humanitarian aid to survive. Two thirds of those are children.

More than 400 schools have been attacked, over half of which have been totally destroyed.

 

A portrait of Victoire*

A portrait of Victoire*

A graveyard in Ituri Province

A graveyard in Ituri Province

Children sit under a tree in the courtyard of a school in Ituri Province

Children sit under a tree in the courtyard of a school in Ituri Province

Victoire, with her mother Marie, outside their home

Victoire, with her mother Marie, outside their home

Victoire at a school supported by Save the Children

Victoire at a school supported by Save the Children

PRISCA,* 6

"I saw a lot of corpses. We took some small luggage on our heads and just the clothes we were wearing"

When armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) attacked the village and surrounding area where Prisca lived, she was forced to flee, along with her mother and grandmother.

They walked for miles to a nearby camp, passing many dead bodies along the way, with just a small bag each and the clothes they were wearing.

Although Prisca is pleased to be away from the fighting and the sound of gunshots, life in the camp is not easy. Prisca sleeps on the floor with just a thin blanket for warmth and her family have very little food to eat each day.

Prisca is now part of a Save the Children programme which helps displaced children to return to school, providing them special lessons to catch up with the schooling they have missed. She also received a school uniform, some notebooks and pens from the charity.

A portrait of Prisca inside her home

A portrait of Prisca inside her home

A camp for internally displaced people in Ituri Province, Democratic Republic of Congo

A camp for internally displaced people in Ituri Province, Democratic Republic of Congo

*Names have been changed to protect identities