Ukrainian children play at a shelter in Poland, but they bear the invisible injuries of war

ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry reports from a refugee shelter near Poland's border with Ukraine, where volunteers have created a playroom for children.

Suddenly I hear something that I haven’t heard since I arrived in Poland 10 days ago: the sound of children laughing.

We’re in a refugee reception centre near Poland’s border with Ukraine, where volunteers have created a playroom. Children are busy building dens, drawing, watching TV, trying out a hula hoop. But they all bear the invisible injuries of war.

I’m introduced to Natalia Tymec, one of the very few Ukrainian speaking psychologists in the area. She tells me that “adults have some resources to cope, but children don’t.

“They are full of pain, full of suffering, full of uncertainty, they don’t know what will happen to them.”

Natalia is one of the very few Ukrainian speaking psychologists at the shelter.

Natalia was born in Ukraine, but grew up here in Poland. Her contribution to the war effort is offering therapy to the traumatised.

“I am working 12 or 14 hours every day and I feel I need to help them - it’s my fight. I cannot shoot like soldiers, but I can fight in this way to help these people, to give them power.”

Ukrainian children who have fled Russia's invasion are 'full of pain', psychologist tells ITV News.

She starts to cry as she explains to me that it’s the innocent who are worst affected.

“These little children are heroes, they want to be saved, that’s all. They are witnesses, they are not guilty and it’s unfair. They are innocent.”

Psychologist Natalia tells ITV News that all Ukrainians need psychological support after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

She’s brought us to a primary school in Przemysl that’s been transformed into a shelter for Ukrainian families. The huge sports hall is now full of camp beds - 160 of them, packed tightly together.

I find 21-year-old Natalia, who’s holding her 18 month old daughter Margarita. She tells me her daughter was terrified of the planes flying above them and that she still wakes at night crying in fear.

All of a sudden the school bell rings incongruously, while a little girl vomits into a plastic bag, as her mother tries to comfort her.

At the other end of the gymnasium, a couple of boys throw a soft toy, attempting to get it into the redundant basketball net. It strikes me that these children should be at school learning right now, not sheltering inside one. 

Children play basketball in the shelter in Przemysl, Poland

It’s a makeshift existence, but somehow life adapts to a new kind of normal.

I see a mother hanging her washing on the goal posts; her name is Olya and she wants to tell me about her family. She has six children, but only five are with her right now. Her eldest, Sacha, stayed behind in Kharkiv to fight.

As she proudly shows me photos of him posing in his military uniform, she tells me she’s frightened for him. She starts to cry as she tells me she hopes for peace “so they can return home and sleep peacefully once again”.

Then, as she reaches out to give me a powerful hug, she assures me: “I’m a strong woman, I will cope.” 

But I know whatever happens in the months and years ahead, the people of Ukraine, people like Olya, will bear the scars.

Outside I see a Ukrainian family sitting in their car with a smashed windscreen. Stuck to the window is a handwritten sign, which says “kids” in Russian - a desperate plea for mercy, as they fled the bombs and rockets falling on Ukraine.

Yes, they made it out alive, they made it here to safety - but now what?