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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - KYIV: Moments after wailing air raid sirens stopped short Eva Evstratenko’s gymnastics class, forcing the nine-year-old into a basement for shelter, she was back on the mat, determined to keep pushing.
“I’ve been doing gymnastics for four years, and I want to become an Olympic champion,” she told AFP. “Every gymnast wants that.”
Nearly one year after Russia invaded Ukraine, the epicenter of fighting has shifted to the east of the country and away from Evstratenko’s home city of Kyiv.
But frequent Russian missile strikes and daily warnings of aerial attacks have disrupted routines for millions in the capital and upset Evstratenko’s goal to become a star.
Behind Evstratenko, whose blond hair was tied in a tight bun, her classmates were swirling, practicing jumps, leaps and cartwheels.
Their coach Anastasia Provotorova is just as motivated to keep at it, preparing her would-be champions for competition despite constraints brought on by Russia’s assault.
“We came back up and continued to train because the sirens stopped, but now we are without electricity,” Provotorova said, watching over her proteges.
The children were “supposed to be training at this time,” she said.
Power cuts have become the norm too, with Russia targeting energy infrastructure in recent months.
The UN has warned these attacks put almost seven million children at risk, without sustained access to electricity, heating and water.
“Our children are not giving up, they are full of spirit,” Provotorova said.
But still the fighting has brought psychological hardship to children throughout Ukraine. More than 400 have been killed and many more injured, Kyiv says.
“The first day of war was the worst day of my life... we woke up in panic,” the nine-year-old Evstratenko told AFP.
“You have no idea what to do. It’s scary,” she said.
More than two million children left the country, while another three million were displaced internally between February and June, the UN has said.
Evstratenko, her parents and brother Demyan left their home too, relocating to western Ukraine where they remained for seven months.
“It wasn’t as good as it was at home. You feel that you aren’t where you were born,” Evstratenko said.
The family have since returned to their small Kyiv apartment and are adjusting to life under Russian bombardment.
When power goes off, Evstratenko’s parents set the table for candle-lit dinners in their kitchen under twinkling fairy lights.
They also constantly monitor signs of incoming missile attacks.
“It’s a lot more difficult at night. You hope that even if the missiles do come that they won’t hit you,” Evstratenko’s father, Andriy, said.
Back in the gymnastics studio, Evstratenko says the threat of missile attacks are impacting her training too.
Anytime she goes to shelter, she has to warm up all over again, leaving less time to actually improve.
“Classes are shorter and there are no extra classes, so it’s more difficult to get back into the form that I used to have,” she said.
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