The plastic soles crunch on the worn parquet floor of the boxing gym filled with contagious energy. Left, right, uppercut, direct… Tirelessly, the Ukrainian teenagers chain strikes and body feints. Blond hair in disorder, Vitali’s head stands out in the middle of his fellow workers. At 15, he looks like a featherless stork with his endless legs and thin arms. His blows lack power, but certainly not will. He started boxing after the war started and since then he comes three times a week. At the end of each session, the young athlete feels tired but above all less ” stress “.
Vitalii trains boxing in Cherkassy, Ukraine, May 22, 2023 / Olga Ivashchenko for La Croix
“You have to stay in shape during the war”, he asserts. Vitali has the serious gaze of those teenagers who have grown up too quickly. His father is somewhere on the front line, volunteering in the early days of the invasion. “She is a role model for me”, entrusts the son, who also quotes the name of the Ukrainian professional boxers who joined the army. At home, his mother relies on him more now. He has become responsible for the education of his little brother, which leaves him little free time once he finishes his online courses. “My life has become more serious over the past year”concludes the young man by joining his boxing partner.
The whistle interrupts the session. With tight lips, Ihor Prykhodko sends everyone back to the locker room. The thick-handed coach is rather content behind his grumpy looks. “They are unbreakable, our young people”, he comments. From his vantage point at ringside, the former kickboxing world champion got a clear idea of Ukrainian teenagers. “War is sirens, panic. You have to live with fear and grow with ithe observes. A small number don’t think of anything and got lost along the way, but the vast majority of young people have started to be more serious and responsible. »
Young Ukrainians optimistic, despite everything
In an opinion poll conducted by the Kantar-Ukraine society on Ukrainian teenagers aged 13 to 19, 95% of respondents said they believed in their country’s victory. Nearly two thirds say they want to live and study in their country despite the war and 86% do not see their future abroad.
Among the role models they cite, young Ukrainians remember their parents at 55%, followed by the army (51%), volunteers (25%) and teachers (13%), ahead of actors and singers (11 %).
According to Kantar-Ukraine, “young people are increasingly interested in the official position of brands on the conflict before making a purchase. Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, for example, are very popular, while other companies continue to operate in Russia. »
In Cherkassy, a peaceful medium-sized town in the center of Ukraine, war seems both near and far. Here, we often hear warning sirens but very rarely the sound of Russian shells. Only the bridge which spans the immense Dnieper was bombarded twice, without causing irreversible damage. The conflict with Russia is there, however, in everyone’s mind, with these internally displaced persons, these bereaved families and these companies struggling to survive. It leaves its mark on social relations and cultural events, imposing on all the teenagers encountered a form of unusual seriousness.
“So much has happened in the space of a year”, sighs Katerina, 15, her gaze turned towards her comrades who are playing a game of volleyball on the beach on the banks of the Dnieper. Moving from kyiv to Cherkassy, a “safer” city. The boredom of distance learning due to college closures. His circle of friends scattered in Ukraine and abroad. The departure of his father to the army, July 8. ” I miss him “she said between tears and a smile. “He has changed, he has become more emotionalshe says. When he is on leave, he refuses to talk about what he is going through. He says it is not necessary for us to know. »
Every evening, Katerina and her sister wait for the news that their mother receives from the front. Fear for his father, ” my hero “, is by far what disturbs her the most in her daily life, a feeling that is widespread within her age category. A recent opinion study on adolescents and their life during the war, carried out by the company Kantar-Ukraine (read the marks) stresses that worry for a parent, an uncle, a brother is cited in number one by young Ukrainians between the ages of 13 and 19, far ahead of the uncertain future, the difficulties linked to power cuts and distance learning.
In Tcherkassy as elsewhere, most of the young people experienced their first militant action, by participating in this momentum which gripped the population at the start of the conflict. Some raised funds for the armed forces, others wove camouflage nets, packed rations and distributed food. Then the mobilization ran out of steam, without falling back completely. “With the war, I understood that everyone could help even when it comes to issues that are beyond us”, testifies Ioulia, 15, crossed on the sidelines of a free English course given at the municipal library. Passionate about journalism, the girl broadcasts videos on TikTok and Telegram, where she calls to raise funds for the army.
Social networks are indeed today the counters where teenagers get information, much more than the traditional media viewed with suspicion. The new influencers are bloggers at the front or volunteers at the back, the most famous of which is Latchen, who went from unknown to celebrity status, boasting over a million subscribers on the Telegram app. Vadim also reads information on Steam, a popular platform for online gamers. “I stopped watching Russian bloggers when the invasion began.adds the teenager, finishing his “Big Mac”. With my video game team, we also used to face Russians. It’s over. We play against Estonians and Georgians now. »
Among adolescents, the divorce with the Russian world is consummated: an observation that also affects traditionally Russian-speaking circles in the east and south of the country. This is the case of Galia, 16 years old. The language of Tolstoy has long rocked his childhood at the school of Severodonetsk, a city in the East that fell under the control of the Russians during the summer of 2022. “Before, I found the Ukrainian a little harshexplains the young girl who is destined for a career as a musician. Now I feel like it’s a beautiful language. » As of February 24, 2022, the date of the start of the Russian invasion, she says she stopped speaking and singing in Russian. Promoting Ukrainian music is his dream now.
Galia (right), with her sister Irina, at the Rose Valley park in Cherkassy on May 21, 2023. / Olga Ivashchenko for La Croix
With the Russian language, Russian popular culture seems to have already lost the war with Ukrainian teenagers. The fashion is now to ban the artists of the invader, very popular before February 24, 2022, from the lists of his mobile phone. “If you listen to Russian music, you give money to their singers and therefore, you are a sponsor of the war”insists in English Irina, 14, who has also given up reading Russian authors of classical literature.
By his side, his ” best friend “ Anton, 16, nods. He says “remove everything that is Russian from (at) life. The food. Marks. This is my mode of resistance. » Last week, his family received a visit from the uncle, back from the front. The veteran lost a leg over the winter. His blank stare ” afraid “ l’adolescent. “Honestly, I’m afraid to be a soldierhe slips. But, if they call me, I won’t run away. »
Ukrainian forces are nibbling ground
Ukraine continues its slow and difficult counter-offensive in the south and east of the country where it says it has recovered ground, about 113 square kilometers. The Ukrainian army announced Monday, June 19 the reconquest of the village of Piatykhatky: the “eighth liberated locality” in two weeks. Most of these offensives are conducted by small units in order to test the front to determine possible points of weakness within the Russian defense. Taking advantage of the collapse of the Kakhovka dam and the floods that widened the Dnieper River, Russia for its part began to move thousands of soldiers from the area to reinforce the Zaporijjia and Bakhmout sectors.
On Sunday June 18, Denise Brown, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine accused Russia of obstructing the delivery of aid to victims in areas it controls in southern Ukraine. Hundreds of square kilometers downstream were flooded after the destruction of the structure on June 6, forcing the evacuation of thousands of inhabitants and raising fears of an environmental disaster. “The UN will continue to do everything in its power to reach everyone, including those suffering the consequences of the recent destruction of the dam”said the coordinator.
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