How a Ukrainian Summer Camp Is Giving Kids Displaced by War a Second Chance at Childhood
For four months, Ukrainians have endured a deadly Russian invasion that's forced several million residents to evacuate their homes and take refuge either abroad or in other areas of Ukraine unoccupied by Russian forces.
With summer now in full force, many of the surviving children in Ukraine who have suffered great emotional trauma this year are desperate to resume their childhoods — and one new summer camp program is dedicated to doing just that.
The 7Fields Eco Camp is a new children's camp with a strong mission, located on the outskirts of Ukraine's Kyiv region near Zalissia National Park. Through six sessions, the camp aims to provide 300 refugee children with fun activities and psychological aid before the summer's end.
Attendees get six meals a day and participate in a range of events during their free, two-week stay — think talent shows, flash mobs and campfire songs. They also have access to playgrounds, sports areas, a swimming pool, a yoga dome, a climbing wall and a wide variety of games.
Creative educational programs are worked into the experience to give kids an opportunity to learn financial literacy, the English language, engineering and music, and older children will attend anti-corruption lectures.
The camp notes that the children they plan to host "live in foreign cities and villages of Ukraine and do not have access to education and leisure activities."
Organizers are working with the Ukraine government to identify children who are officially registered as "internally displaced persons," most of whom were evacuated from the eastern and southern portions of the country that have either become occupied by Russian invaders or are unsafe for residents to stay while the war rages on.
The camp's top priority is helping the children feel a sense of safety, and while they're only an hour outside of Ukraine's capital, Kyiv — an obvious target in the ongoing conflict — kids at the camp are able to enjoy the outdoors, and the clean air and fresh well water that comes with.
Run by two public organizations, Headquarter and 7Fields, the eco camp is entirely free for attendees, relying on outside donations to keep the programs running smoothly.
Currently, there are still kids that need funding, and the organization is calling on donors to support their mission by sponsoring a child to attend. A Facebook group allows donors and interested parties to keep up with what's happening at the camp and see how the money is being put to use.
"Support isn't just about bringing food," co-founder Oxana Volzhina wrote in a Facebook post about the camp, "support is not letting them forget what life is, that children's lives are ongoing and should be happy!
The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.