accessibility & help

Ukraine: Life under fire

A single image cannot communicate what life is like for people living in an armed conflict zone. But it can give pause for thought.

These activities focus on recognising resilience and identifying what kinds of outside help might be welcome in crisis situations.


Learning objectives

By the end of this activity young people will be able to:

  • Reflect on the humanitarian impact of armed conflict.
  • Distinguish between being in need of help and being weak or helpless, and explain the difference.

People and conflict

Say to the group that they about to see a photograph which illustrates the effect armed conflict can have on civilians.

It is a shocking photograph but reassure the group that it isn't gruesome.

First, ask the group what kind of scene they are expecting to see.

Then show the photograph.

An elderly woman collects water from a puddle in Debaltseve Ukraine 3 February 2015© Info

Invite reactions. Is it what young people were expecting? Why? Why not? Did young people find it shocking, and if so why?

Ask young people to imagine they were there, at the moment of the photograph.

What might they say to the woman? Would they offer any help? Words of encouragement? What might she appreciate to make her task easier?

After discussion, talk about the context of the image.

It was taken on 3 February 2015 in the city of Debaltseve, Ukraine. The area, in the east of the country, has seen intense fighting - including shelling and shooting. Many people have left the area.

Those who remain live among damaged buildings, without many basic services.

"There is no electricity, no water. The hospital is all smashed up and the shops aren't working" one former resident told reporters.

Safe water

Talk about why the woman pictured might be collecting water.

List different uses of water in households. For drinking and preparing food, it is vital to purify the water to avoid unpleasant and severe illness. For other uses, such as watering plants or flushing toilets, purification is less important. Look at your list and decide which uses matter most.

Estimate how much purified water a household would need a day for each person. Talk about the options for purifying water to make it safe. Boiling is one. It is also possible to use household bleach as a disinfectant.

Ask the group to research the process for purifying using bleach. What proportion of bleach is recommended? How long do you let the water stand before use? Discuss how reliable the source of information is, and find a better one if you don't fully trust the first.

Stress that liquid bleach is highly corrosive and dangerous if used in the wrong proportion. If combined with other cleaning products it can produce poisonous gases.

Invite young people to think of other substances that are beneficial in one quantity or concentration and harmful in another.


Needing help vs. being helpless

Look again at the photograph.

How would you describe the woman's approach?

Is she resourceful, resilient and determined? Or weak, vulnerable and helpless?

Try to get agreement among the group on what the image shows.

Complete this sentence in your own words:

"Being in need of help is not the same as being weak because...."

In small groups write a headline to accompany the photograph, as if for a newspaper or website. Share and critique each other's choices. Which are positive, stressing the strength in adversity? Which focus more on the suffering?


Humanitarian aid

Aid agencies are providing assistance where they can.

Here are five sentences relating to the humanitarian effort in eastern Ukraine. They have been jumbled.

Match the numbered first half of the sentence with the correct second half, indicated by letter.

    1. The bitterly cold winter means that there's great need...

    2. Repairing windows and roofs may not be a priority task...

    3. A supply of clean fresh water...

    4. Hospitals are finding it difficult to operate...

    5. A big decision that people in a conflict zone have to make...


    a. whether to stay in their homes or move to somewhere safer.

    b. ...without medicines and surgical equipment.

    c. ...for tents, blankets, sleeping bags, warm clothes and heaters.

    d. ...until the shelling has stopped.

    e. vital for survival and to cut down disease.



    1c, 2d, 3e, 4b, 5a


Emergency parcel

The woman in the photograph clearly needs water. What else might she need?

In small groups, devise the contents of a parcel that an aid agency might deliver.

Include practical items that make the woman's life easier. Think about what her priorities might be.

Remember that there is likely to be no electricity in her home. She may have to cook and keep warm using fires lit outside the flats - as the people gathered in the right background of the photograph may be doing.

Don't forget psychological needs.

Use your knowledge of a neighbour or relative of similar age. What might help them keep cheerful and positive in difficult times?


No school

Think about what it iwould be like to have no school. How would you spend your time if schools were closed because of armed conflict?

Watch a short BBC Newsround video (1:20) in which two children at a gym in Donetsk talk about their lives.

Ask young people to identify one thing that they expected and one thing that surprised them about the children's responses and experience.

If they could ask the children three questions, what would they be?

If you cannot show the video, use these edited transcripts of what the children said:

Ulyana is 6: "I do acrobatics here. I don't go to school at the moment because there's fighting going on. It's very fierce, we're scared and we stay at home and don't go out. We hide by the dividing wall when there's heavy shooting, or in the bathroom....I want the war to end and for us to go back to school, all the shops to open again and for peace to be restored."

Anton is 12: "My dad was a boxer, and now I've started boxing too. I wake up, wash and go to my morning training. Then I go home, have some food, rest, then I come here for training at 4 pm. There was a time in the summer when it only just begun when a shell fell on the home next door. So we went to Mariupol. We stayed there for August, came back in September, and now we're used to it."


Time to return?

An estimated 1.5 million people have left their homes in eastern Ukraine because of the intense fighting. At some point families will face the decision of whether to return.

Ask young people to imagine a family discussing whether to return to the home they left a few months ago. Set up an improvised drama, using the following as briefing notes:

The family left when fighting was at its height, with nearby homes being hit by shells. Since then, they've heard it is much quieter, though the fighting may return at any time. Some people think it is better to go back home, to look after the house and belongings. Others say it's not worth the risk.

If drama isn't appropriate, you could adapt the scene to a writing exercise.



This resource was written by PJ White of alt62 and published in February 2015.


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