Ukrainian war drawings

  • A Ukrainian girl comforts her six-year-old brother as they prepare to leave a UNICEF-supported shelter in Romania for their next destination. Image UNICEF-Alex Nicodim.

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Ukrainian war drawings

Written by Andrea Gabarró

Psychologist Núria Casanovas analyses the drawings of seven children who have lived through the war in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, which has been under threat of invasion by Vladimir Putin's troops for more than a year.

The expression “a picture is worth a thousand words” can also be applied to children’s drawings. A drawing can evoke more than a thousand words and emotions. Images speak, and so do drawings. In a world where adults often speak on behalf of children, or where children do not yet have enough tools to express the complexity of their emotions, there are techniques to help decipher feelings. Núria Casanovas, a psychologist specialising in childhood and the family, has dedicated her career to analysing and interpreting children’s drawings. She has even written a book that serves as an introduction to this branch of psychology.

Children often bear the consequences of the actions of adults, and we are often unaware of how this can affect them. Ukraine has been at war for almost two years now. An armed conflict that, according to the United Nations (UN), has so far claimed thousands of lives (there are 24,900 registered civilian casualties), caused incalculable destruction and left nearly 18 million people in need of humanitarian aid.

If these figures were not overwhelming enough, we could add that there are currently 1,060 confirmed attacks on health facilities, that 30% of pre-war jobs have been lost and that almost 10 million people, including 7.8 million children, are at risk of suffering acute post-traumatic stress disorder.

We had access to the drawings of children of different ages living in Kiev before and during the war. Their stories are different, but they have one thing in common: they are living their childhoods in war. In Kiev, air raid alarms sound daily and are part of the soundtrack of everyday life. When the alarms go off, shopping centres, department stores and administrative buildings are evacuated, and teachers – in accordance with regulations – take the children to shelters in the basements of schools to take cover. There they continue their lessons until the closing alarm sounds, signalling the end of the danger.

These children, who have never left Kiev, have experienced the war from the beginning. During the first months of the conflict, they did not attend school because the schools were used as shelters for internally displaced people from the worst-affected areas. They have experienced air raids, massive bombings, and the consequences of the destruction of electrical installations, leaving them without electricity, water or heating.

According to Núria Casanovas, war can affect children at all levels: emotionally, neurologically and in their relationships with others, because it puts them in situations where they lose their sense of protection and trust, which can also affect their learning.

“The body sometimes prioritises survival and therefore has to devote a lot of energy to digesting and coping with the stress experienced,” argues the psychologist. “This affects learning processes and cognitive abilities; traumatic situations can even lead to dissociation.

But as with anything, the war situation can affect each child differently, as there are many variables to take into account, such as family support, intellectual capacity, emotional resources or past history, warns the psychologist. “However, it is sometimes observed that in the short-term young children seem to suffer less from war because they are more resilient and, in many cases, continue to lead a normal life. “The consequences of these traumatic situations experienced in early childhood can become a factor of emotional difficulty in the long term if they are not dealt with afterwards. It is important that children are accompanied by professionals so that they do not suffer these consequences in the future. In this sense, it is necessary to work on these grievances as well as on the feeling of security or protection. In other cases, it is also necessary to work on the traumas caused by the war, and this requires specialised professionals. It should not be an immediate treatment, because there are children who have a very strong capacity for resilience, and even with the support of their father, mother, or school, they manage to cope.

As Casanovas explains, although some children are very resilient, adults can pass on the feeling of stress to them. “Even if they’re not in the hot zone of war or don’t see a bomb directly, they feel the stress of their environment, which gives them a sense of suffering. “The child experiences it indirectly.

In order to help children channel a situation such as war, Núria Casanovas explains that the first step is to identify how it affects them. She adds that, at an age when they do not know how to express themselves as well as they would like, analysing drawings is a good way of finding out about the child’s state of mind.

1. Varia, 4 years old.

The first drawing is that of Varia, aged 4. After analysing it, Núria concludes that the type of drops that Varia makes indicate that the child is very sensitive, very emotional. The rain appears in the right-hand corner, which means that Varia is projecting herself into the future; “it means that the solution for this child, when he feels bad or stressed, is to think about what will be good for him in the future, because that will help him feel better,” argues the psychologist. “The other drawing, the one of the house, is positive because the sun is drawn on the left, and this usually tells us about resilience; at the same time, the type of house he draws means that, due to his temperament, he has a lot of inner strength, despite the difficult times he has had to live through”.

2. Violetta, 4 years old.

As we can see, Violetta‘s drawing of the house is similar to Varia’s, which indicates a lot of strength and resilience. “In addition, the door – which has a strong presence in the house – speaks of a good ability to communicate and interact with others”.

Violetta, on the other hand, does not pull out an umbrella to protect herself from the rain, and “this suggests that she needs some resources to cope with stress, such as relaxing or learning to manage her thoughts. Similarly, the projection of the human figure in the rain on the right side of the page indicates that he has a tendency to think about the future as a resource to feel better in stressful situations”.

3. David, 5 years old.

The next drawing, that of David, 5 years old, shows some emotional discomfort. “We can already see that the human figure is drawn more with knives. This speaks more of a tension on an emotional level that is expressed in the drawing”. The hands – which speak of the relationship with the family – are red and clenched, so they may express that there is tension at the family level or that the parents are more tense”.

In the drawing below, the tree on the right, which is very large, shows a need to lean on the mother. At the same time, it has very large ears, indicating that it is a child who is very sensitive to its feelings and therefore needs to be told things in a very positive way. At the same time, Casanovas points out that we should perhaps avoid telling him things that are intended for adults, or things that might worry him too much.

4. Zlata, 4 years old.

Like David’s drawing, Zlata‘s drawing shows a need for a mother figure, represented by the large tree on the left. The house has a window at the top, the roof and the round one, which is linked to a need for consciousness. “So Zlata has to be very aware of the why of things and what she can and cannot do. However, she is pulling the door away from the floor, which means she feels she needs protection.

At the bottom of the drawing there is a rainbow above the human figure, a sign of transformation. “This child sees that things are changing for the better”.

5. Zoriana, 6 years old.

In Zoriana‘s drawing a very long grass stands out, as high as her legs, and this means that she is projecting her need to feel tenderness and a lot of positivism in communication. The figure underneath is holding a kind of balloon, which indicates the need for control, i.e. it would be interesting to let this child decide things so that she does not feel helpless. “The balloon also refers to the need to rediscover the inner child; it indicates that Zoriana has the need to preserve this life of a child who plays despite the seriousness of the situation around her”.

6. Orest, 6 years old.

Orest‘s drawing is quite positive because the human figure is larger than the house. To the right of the roof there are two lines, one of which is distorted, which could indicate that the child feels that protection is being weakened. Normally the right side is associated with the father, so one possibility is that Orest is feeling a possible lack of protection from his father; perhaps because he has gone to war, or because he fears he may have to go in the future. The drawing of a tree on either side of the house explains that he is developing the necessary resources to feel more protected.

7. Orest, 6 years old.

The other drawing of this human figure with yellow head and feet in the rain is interesting because it contains a very good umbrella, indicating that Orest has the ability to put into action things that will make him feel protected. A cloud should be highlighted, indicating the child’s feeling that “everything happens to me, everything inside me falls down”. It should also be noted that his resources are effective and the fact that he has no hair indicates that “the situation he is going through affects his self-esteem”. We can also see that he draws the sun on the right, next to the cloud. This means that despite the difficulties and stress he may be experiencing, he is able to see that there are positive things.

8. Rita, 5 years old.

Finally, in the drawing by Rita, aged 5, the lack of resources is striking: “The person in the rain does not have an umbrella, and although she looks like a happy and sensitive child – because of the eyelashes and the pink eyes she draws – this lack of a protective tool in the drawing indicates a need for resources to hold on to in a difficult situation in real life”.

“In the drawing of the tree – because of the type of crown and the crossings – it is clear that she may be suffering from anxiety on a mental level, as the crown is linked to the mental level of the person”. “The house is also pink, as is the face underneath, so despite the worries and tensions, there is a sweet aspect that is important and would be positive,” the psychologist concludes.

“In these drawings, one of the important aspects of the depictions of people in the rain is whether or not they are carrying umbrellas. Most of the characters do not have an umbrella, or it is not very functional, and this suggests that the characters do not feel well protected”. “This means that they are children who have no means or defences to protect themselves from hardship.

“If they are children of war, despite their abilities, they have had a situation that they have not been able to escape: they are affected by stressful situations.

However, Casanovas points out that the drawings are quite positive, perhaps because of the area where these children live. The psychologist points out that she has analysed various drawings by children from Ukraine who have been helped by the Red Cross here in Catalonia, and that “these drawings channelled extremely traumatic situations”. “They showed broken children, people with blood, dead people, corpses and machine guns. And that’s when the drawing allows us to channel what the child sometimes doesn’t explain because he doesn’t want to or can’t”.

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Ukrainian war drawings

Written by Andrea Gabarró

Psychologist Núria Casanovas analyses the drawings of seven children who have lived through the war in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, which has been under threat of invasion by Vladimir Putin’s troops for more than a year.

In the complex emotional world of children, drawings can often be a more powerful channel of communication than words. This is the principle on which psychologist Núria Casanovas has based her career, specialising in interpreting children’s drawings as a window into their thoughts and feelings. She has also shared her experience in a book that serves as a guide for those interested in better understanding this aspect of child psychology.

Meanwhile, in places like Ukraine, children face unique challenges as a result of the war. Since the conflict began nearly two years ago, it has left a trail of devastation, claimed lives and leaving millions in need of humanitarian aid. In cities like Kiev, where war has become a disturbing part of daily life, children are coping with the fear and trauma of a reality marked by air raid alerts and shelling.

According to the United Nations (UN), the consequences of the war in Ukraine are heartbreaking: thousands of lives lost, untold destruction and millions in need of aid. In addition, the social and economic fabric of the country has been severely damaged, with frequent attacks on critical infrastructure and a significant decline in employment, leaving millions of people, including many children, at risk of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Through the drawings of children living in Kiev, it is possible to glimpse the various ways in which the war has affected their lives. From the disruption of their daily routines to the loss of loved ones and the destruction of their environment, these children are living their childhoods in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. Often schools, which should be safe havens for them, have been turned into makeshift shelters for displaced people, exposing these children to a cruel and incomprehensible reality.

Psychologist Núria Casanovas stresses the importance of understanding how war affects children at all levels: emotionally, neurologically and in their relationships with others. The loss of a sense of security and trust can have a significant impact on their cognitive and emotional development, making it essential to provide them with the right support to cope.

While some children show remarkable resilience, it is important to recognise that war can leave deep emotional scars that require long-term care. It is essential that affected children are accompanied by trained professionals to help them process their experiences and develop strategies for coping with trauma.

In this context, the analysis of children’s drawings can be an invaluable tool for understanding their emotional state and providing them with the support they need. Through the drawings and images, they create, children can express what they often cannot put into words, providing a unique insight into their inner world and emotional needs. In the context of war and trauma, understanding and responding to these artistic expressions can make all the difference on the road to healing and emotional recovery for these vulnerable children.

1. Varia, 4 years old

The first drawing is that of Varia, aged 4. After analysing it, Núria concludes that the type of drops that Varia makes indicate that the child is very sensitive, very emotional. The rain appears in the right-hand corner, which means that Varia is projecting herself into the future; “it means that the solution for this child, when he feels bad or stressed, is to think about what will be good for him in the future, because that will help him feel better,” argues the psychologist. “The other drawing, the one of the house, is positive because the sun is drawn on the left, and this usually tells us about resilience; at the same time, the type of house he draws means that, due to his temperament, he has a lot of inner strength, despite the difficult times he has had to live through”.

2.Violetta, 4 years old.

As we can see, Violetta‘s drawing of the house is similar to Varia’s, which indicates a lot of strength and resilience. “In addition, the door – which has a strong presence in the house – speaks of a good ability to communicate and interact with others”.

Violetta, on the other hand, does not pull out an umbrella to protect herself from the rain, and “this suggests that she needs some resources to cope with stress, such as relaxing or learning to manage her thoughts. Similarly, the projection of the human figure in the rain on the right side of the page indicates that he has a tendency to think about the future as a resource to feel better in stressful situations”.

3. David, 5 years old.

The next drawing, that of David, 5 years old, shows some emotional discomfort. “We can already see that the human figure is drawn more with knives. This speaks more of a tension on an emotional level that is expressed in the drawing”. The hands – which speak of the relationship with the family – are red and clenched, so they may express that there is tension at the family level or that the parents are more tense”.

In the drawing below, the tree on the right, which is very large, shows a need to lean on the mother. At the same time, it has very large ears, indicating that it is a child who is very sensitive to its feelings and therefore needs to be told things in a very positive way. At the same time, Casanovas points out that we should perhaps avoid telling him things that are intended for adults, or things that might worry him too much.

4. Zlata, 4 years old.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like David’s drawing, Zlata‘s drawing shows a need for a mother figure, represented by the large tree on the left. The house has a window at the top, the roof and the round one, which is linked to a need for consciousness. “So Zlata has to be very aware of the why of things and what she can and cannot do. However, she is pulling the door away from the floor, which means she feels she needs protection.

At the bottom of the drawing there is a rainbow above the human figure, a sign of transformation. “This child sees that things are changing for the better”.

5. Zoriana, 6 years old.

In Zoriana‘s drawing a very long grass stands out, as high as her legs, and this means that she is projecting her need to feel tenderness and a lot of positivism in communication. The figure underneath is holding a kind of balloon, which indicates the need for control, i.e. it would be interesting to let this child decide things so that she does not feel helpless. “The balloon also refers to the need to rediscover the inner child; it indicates that Zoriana has the need to preserve this life of a child who plays despite the seriousness of the situation around her”.

6. Orest, 6 years old.

Orest‘s drawing is quite positive because the human figure is larger than the house. To the right of the roof there are two lines, one of which is distorted, which could indicate that the child feels that protection is being weakened. Normally the right side is associated with the father, so one possibility is that Orest is feeling a possible lack of protection from his father; perhaps because he has gone to war, or because he fears he may have to go in the future. The drawing of a tree on either side of the house explains that he is developing the necessary resources to feel more protected.

7.Orest, 6 years old.

The other drawing of this human figure with yellow head and feet in the rain is interesting because it contains a very good umbrella, indicating that Orest has the ability to put into action things that will make him feel protected. A cloud should be highlighted, indicating the child’s feeling that “everything happens to me, everything inside me falls down”. It should also be noted that his resources are effective and the fact that he has no hair indicates that “the situation he is going through affects his self-esteem”. We can also see that he draws the sun on the right, next to the cloud. This means that despite the difficulties and stress he may be experiencing, he is able to see that there are positive things.

8. Rita, 5 years old.

Finally, in the drawing by Rita, aged 5, the lack of resources is striking: “The person in the rain does not have an umbrella, and although she looks like a happy and sensitive child – because of the eyelashes and the pink eyes she draws – this lack of a protective tool in the drawing indicates a need for resources to hold on to in a difficult situation in real life”.

“In the drawing of the tree – because of the type of crown and the crossings – it is clear that she may be suffering from anxiety on a mental level, as the crown is linked to the mental level of the person”. “The house is also pink, as is the face underneath, so despite the worries and tensions, there is a sweet aspect that is important and would be positive,” the psychologist concludes.

“In these drawings, one of the important aspects of the depictions of people in the rain is whether or not they are carrying umbrellas. Most of the characters do not have an umbrella, or it is not very functional, and this suggests that the characters do not feel well protected”. “This means that they are children who have no means or defences to protect themselves from hardship.

“If they are children of war, despite their abilities, they have had a situation that they have not been able to escape: they are affected by stressful situations.

However, Casanovas points out that the drawings are quite positive, perhaps because of the area where these children live. The psychologist points out that she has analysed various drawings by children from Ukraine who have been helped by the Red Cross here in Catalonia, and that “these drawings channelled extremely traumatic situations”. “They showed broken children, people with blood, dead people, corpses and machine guns. And that’s when the drawing allows us to channel what the child sometimes doesn’t explain because he doesn’t want to or can’t”.

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Reading Comprehension Quiz. Ukrainian war drawings

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