The camera swoops into a Blue Dot centre in Moldova, a room exploding with colour and sound. Paper streamers hover above refugee children who squeal as they attempt to beat staff at cards.
“Oh wow, that’s amazing,” says Karl Urban in genuine surprise as he virtually enters the UNICEF-UNHCR Blue Dot centre and speaks to Shelley Knowles from UNICEF.
Over 7.7 million people have fled the war in Ukraine, and every day new families are arriving in Moldova. Seven-year-old Makar knows the Blue Dot centre well and he isn’t intimidated by adults or the bearded Hollywood actor he has just been introduced to.
Makar and his sister Sonia in the Blue Dot Centre in Moldova
“I’m from the most beautiful village in the world – Odesa,” says Makar confidently before memories creep back and he longs for all that he’s left behind. In March, when Odesa was repeatedly attacked, Makar and his eight-year-old sister were jumping at any loud sound; a knife dropping on their apartment floor reminded the children of gunfire and they would scramble to hide.
When the attacks intensified, their mother Adelina decided to leave abruptly. In the chaos, Adelina forgot it was Makar's birthday and she only remembered in the car as they were leaving. Makar turned seven without a birthday cake or presents; there was only time for a quick hug.
Makar speaks to his father every day.
Makar’s face lights up as he tells Karl of his love for football and playing with his Dad who is now injured in Eastern Ukraine. Karl looks off screen, struggling to process the little boy’s grief.
Staff at the Blue Dot play with Makar and other children, involving them in recreational activities to help them overcome stress. 20-year-old Ion Vasluian from Chisinau, Moldova, has been working at UNICEF’s Blue Dot Centre for three months and says it’s rewarding to see children smile again.
Ion teaches Makar how to fold paper planes and they test them outside.
“I can't imagine what I would do if I would be at such a young age and have to go through a disaster like this,” says Ion. “We're here to play with the children, to distract them… and to make them feel better.”
Tacked to the wall is Makar’s latest achievement, a brightly coloured pencil drawing of three figures beneath a swirling blue sky. Makar giggles as Karl sees the picture for the first time.
Although at 6 ft 1 in, Karl is drawn considerably smaller which elicits deep chuckles from the actor. “Wow, that is incredible. That is so amazing!”
A picture drawn by Makar at the Blue Dot Centre.
A cardboard cut-out of the globe covers the left side of Makar’s picture. Underneath Karl sees Makar’s drawing of the flag of Ukraine, rising from a green-pencilled tank.
Karl pauses and struggles to find the right words. There is no script for how to respond to children like Makar who continue to feel the stress of uncertainty and violence. Nearly two-thirds of children are now displaced either inside Ukraine or in neighbouring countries and beyond.
UNO is a favourite at the Blue Dot Centre, helping refugee children to forget about the war.
As of 20 June, 313 children have been reported killed in Ukraine, and 471 have been injured, with actual numbers likely higher. As children in Ukraine continue to come under attack, their artwork and stories reflect their ongoing trauma, childhoods marred by shelling from heavy artillery, missile and air strikes.
“You’re very, very talented,” says Karl encouragingly. Makar tries hard to suppress a grin and picks up his grey, fluffy cat who has travelled with them from Odessa. The cat is now well loved at the centre, quickly learning how to navigate children as they tear up and down the corridor inventing new games and throwing paper planes over partition walls.
Shelley from UNICEF spends time with the siblings and their cat Shisha.
Makar waves goodbye to Karl and leaves the Blue Dot centre to pack. His belongings are carefully folded inside striped plastic bags. Soon, Makar will start a new life in a new country, while waiting for his father to join them and play football again.
Peace and his father, are the birthday gifts Makar longs for most.
Karl Urban is calling for protection of refugee children and donations to UNICEF.
UNICEF is on the ground in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries providing lifesaving support to children and their families. In Ukraine, UNICEF has reached over 2.1 million people with health supplies and access to safe drinking water. More than 900,000 children & caregivers have received mental health and psychosocial support and more than 336,000 children have been engaged in formal and community-based learning.
Thirty-two UNICEF-UNHCR Blue Dots are in Moldova, Slovak Republic, Poland, Romania, Italy and Bulgaria, which have provided integrated services to over 70,000 people. UNICEF is partnering with authorities and municipalities receiving displaced families to strengthen their ability to receive, absorb and support children and families as they seek to integrate into services and schools.
Children have suffered more than 6 months of war and displacement - they continue to need help