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Telling Children’s Stories of War, Illustrated

Children in parts of eastern Ukraine have known war for most of their lives. But their experiences are not widely understood across the country.

Volunteer Olena Rozvadovska, former spokesperson for the Ukrainian President’s Ombudsman for Children’s Rights, abandoned her life in Kyiv to work closely with these children.

“You see,” Olena explains, “In 10 years we will have a generation of Ukrainians who have grown up during war and whom no one else in the country will understand. One girl asked me where I hide during bombardments. I said ‘Nowhere, my city is never bombarded.’ She was very surprised and asked, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Because war is not everywhere.’”

To tell the story of Olena and the children she cares for in conflict-torn Donestk and Luhansk oblast, journalist Lesia Ganzha took a unique approach.

Her reporting covers Olena’s experiences with a girl with cerebral palsy living on the frontline, a boy who lost his fingers to a bomb explosion, and children who are neglected by parents with drinking problems. Lesia chose these topics to show the harm war causes children, and the ways Ukrainian society — primarily volunteers — try to deal with this tragic situation.

Telling these stories is one thing — but showing them would be quite another.

Kids’ photos are quite a sensitive thing. Journalists need to have parents` permission to use those,” said Lesia. “But I wrote about kids whose parents are alcohol dependent, kids who are otherwise vulnerable. Getting permission for these images might be difficult, and might even put the kids at further risk.”

A partnership with graphic journalist Dan Archer was the answer. An American, Dan had previously worked to tell the story of Ukraine’s 2014 Maidan Revolution, in connection with Ukrainian journalist Anastasiya Vlasova, and focuses his work on social justice topics. Archer was eager to be involved.

“I really appreciated how the focus of the narrative was on the resilience of the characters and not the nature of the conflict and concomitant violence. My respect and admiration for both Lena and the families she’s working with is enormous.”

Dan’s panels, illustrating Lesia’s reporting on Olena and the children, solved the problem of identity protection. They also offer a new way for readers to understand the stories.

“Graphic journalism gives reader a unique way to inhabit some of the moments that comprise a story,” said Dan. “The combination of words and text builds up a series of snapshots in the reader’s mind that affords them a greater ability to identify with the characters involved, and inhabit the spaces that they do.”

“Dan’s pictures are a good way to expand the audience,” said Lesia. “I thought that seeing illustrations of everyday life of the kids living on the frontline, the volunteering of Olena and the ways she deals with the problems may be interesting for national and international audiences.”

“I also think that the use of hand drawn artwork works well with the nature of Lena’s work in the field: carefully crafted, bespoke and produced with a personal touch throughout,” agreed Dan. “I think the medium would also appeal to the children involved, not to mention Lena herself, who might get a kick out of seeing their own drawn likenesses.”

Online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda is publishing the three-story series in September.

Read Story 1 in English; Story 2 in English and Ukrainian.

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Lesia and Dan’s reporting was made possible through an Internews small grants program, with funding support from Global Affairs Canada.

(Photo: Journalist Lesia Ganzha in Popasna, Luhansk oblast, Ukraine. Photo courtesy of Lesia Ganzha).