The city where Anne Frank wrote her World War II diary while hiding with her family from the brutal Nazi occupation is hosting an exhibition about the Ukraine war with grim echoes of her plight more than three quarters of a century later.
The exhibition that opened at Amsterdam City Hall on Thursday offers a vision of the war in Ukraine as experienced by children caught in the devastating conflict.
“This exhibition is about the pain through the children’s eyes,” Khrystyna Khranovska, who developed the idea, said at the opening. “It strikes into the very heart of every adult to be aware of the suffering and grief that the Russian war has brought our children,” she added.
“War Diaries,” includes writings like those that Anne Frank penned in the hidden annex behind an Amsterdam canal-side house, but also modern ways Ukrainian children have recorded and processed the traumatic experience of life during wartime, including photos and video.
Among them is the artwork of Mykola Kostenko, now 15, who spent 21 days under siege in the port city of Mariupol.
The relentless attack on the southern port city became a symbol of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s drive to crush Ukraine soon after Russia invaded its neighbor in February last year, but also of resistance and resilience of its 430,000 population.
His pictures from that time are in blue ballpoint pen on pieces of paper torn out of notebooks — that’s all Kostenko had. One of them shows the tiny basement where he and his family sheltered from the Russian shells before finally managing to flee the city.
“I put my soul into all of these pictures because this is what I lived through in Mariupol. What I saw, what I heard. So this is my experience and this is my hope,” Kostenko said through an interpreter.
Curator Katya Taylor said the diaries and art are useful coping mechanisms for the children.
“We talk so much about mental health and therapy, but they know better than us what they have to do with themselves,” she said. She called the diaries, art, photos and video on display in Amsterdam, “a kind of therapeutic work for many of them.”
The plight of children caught in the war in Ukraine has already attracted widespread international condemnation. More than 500 have been killed, according to Ukrainian officials.
Meanwhile, UNICEF says an estimated 1.5 million Ukrainian children are at risk of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues, with potentially lasting effects.
The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants in March for Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, holding them personally responsible for the abductions of children from Ukraine.
For Kostenko, drawing and painting is also therapeutic — a way of processing the traumatic events and recording them so they are never forgotten.
“It also was an instrument to save the emotions that I lived through. For for me to remember them in the future, because it’s important,” he said.
The youngest diarist, 10-year-old Yehor Kravtsov, also lived in besieged Mariupol. In text on display next to his diary, he writes that he used to dream of becoming a builder. But his experience living through the city’s siege changed his mind.
“When we got out from the basement during the occupation and I was very hungry, I decided to become a chef to feed the whole world,” he wrote. “So that all the people would be happy and there would be no war.”