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Outpost in the Woods: A Camp for Children of Migrants in a Story by Sergey Korovaynyi

Ukrainian photographer Sergey Korovaynyi found out how children, displaced from the ATO, live in a tent city near the site of an abandoned sanatorium.

Sergey Korovaynyi Age 20

Born and raised in Khartsyzsk, Ukraine. Studies economics at Taras Shevchenko National University in Kiev. Works as a freelance photojournalist, contributing to Radio Svoboda and Kyiv Post, Segodnya, LB.ua and other publications.

When covering the situation in Donbass, the media generally limits its coverage to the zone of military combat. This isn’t fair to those who have been most affected by the war. I myself was born in a small city outside of Donetsk, and the fate of average people – those still inside the ATO zone and refugees alike – touches me more than anything else. When an acquaintance of mine told me about a camp for the children of migrants I immediately wanted to put together a story about this place.

“Outpost in the Woods” was founded by activists over a year ago near the village of Dymer (about 45 kilometers from Kiev). At first it was a tent city, but then volunteers renovated an old sanatorium from the 1950s so that the camp would be able to function year-round.

About 500 people in total have stayed at the “Outpost,” all of them either children of migrants or soldiers who are fighting in the ATO. Most of them come in shifts and there are about 20 who live at the “Outpost.” They study at a local school and take part in different volunteer programs. There are also psychologists who live and work with the children, the majority of whom also come from the Donetsk and Lugansk Oblasts.

You always notice a sad guy in the room and talk to him about some nonsense, and then you find out that he’s just come from ‘burning’ Marinka or the ghost city of Shirokino.

I first arrived at the camp in March, 2015. The administration immediately allowed me to shoot, but getting permission from the children themselves wasn’t easy. They are sensitive and often react negatively to the presence of outsiders, but just knowing that I was from their region made them calm down a bit. Perhaps it’s only their closed demeanor and distrust that distinguishes them from ordinary children. At the same time, they played the usual camp games and played pranks on each other; you wouldn’t guess at first that, beneath this veneer of normalcy, their lives had been completely destroyed, their homes had been lost, and in some cases they had been shot at or had lost their loved ones. All of this only came out during sessions with a psychologist. When asked to draw a picture of their dreams, many drew their houses, smiling relatives, and crossed out tanks.

It was easier to shoot during the summer; the camp turned into a big organization with many children who had just arrived there. However, there were many different situations. You always notice a sad guy in the room and talk to him about some nonsense, and then you find out that he’s just come from “burning” Marinka or the ghost city of Shirokino. You always need to be careful and tactful in these conversations.

I hope that everything turns out well for these guys. I would love to see them in the future and walk with them through our familiar Donetsk streets. Like all children, they want their parents to find good work and build a new life, or simply to come out of there alive.

There was only one girl in the cafeteria after lunch who didn’t want to eat her meal, and the camp doctor tried to convince her eat just a little bit.

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At a general assembly called “happenings,” children share their impression about what happened during the day and resolve conflicts.

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Children watch films in the evening (this one was Jumanji).

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The forest begins right behind the territory of the camp.

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When it’s cold outside, older children exercise in a small gym.

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One of the curators is calming down a boy who acted out emotionally during a quest game.

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A homemade bow, made by one of the boys, lying on the floor of a tent.

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Children fishing.

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Girls will be girls.

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There are always different people visiting the camp: representatives of organizations, volunteers, and also simple, caring people. On this occasion, some paintball enthusiasts came. They wanted to show the children that weapons are just instruments that can cause grief but also happiness from an enjoyable pastime.

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It’s important for these children to dispose of the accumulated aggression after difficult life events related to the war.

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Playing “soldiers” is one of the most popular activities.

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In the cafeteria before lunch.

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Relaxing in the tent.

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Near the bonfire.

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Pitch-black darkness rules the night in a tent.

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This girl fell ill and wasn’t allowed to sleep with the others.

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The guys helping carry things to the stockroom.

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Cold nights in the forest.

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The view of a camp house.

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