WWII child refugee recalls the moment she escaped the Soviet Union: 'I left everything I knew'

By the end of World War Two there were millions of refugees in Europe. Many of these displaced persons had been uprooted during the six year conflict as Allied and Axis forces tore through the continent.

One of those refugees was Sinikka Stymne who was just eight years old when she was sent from her home in Finland to safety in Sweden. This is her story:

I was four years old when the war between Finland and the Soviet Union broke out. In the following years, during the Second World War, over 70,000 children were evacuated from war-torn Finland. The children ranged from infants to teenagers – I was only 8 years-old when I was sent to Sweden in 1944, from Helsinki, Finland, and became separated from my parents and grandparents.

Sinikka was eight years old when she left her family and home in 1944. (UNHCR)

I left my home country in February, in the middle of winter, after repeated years of bombings and evacuations. I left everything I knew: my parents, my country, and my language.

At the time I was eager to leave Finland, for peaceful Sweden. To me Sweden seemed like a fairyland, but of course, I did not understand what the evacuation would mean. The reality was very different; during my 11 months in Sweden I lived in three different foster homes. As a child this was confusing and I blamed myself. I felt that it was my fault, and that I wasn’t good enough. I remember crying myself to sleep every night for months on end. I talked to God, since I had none else to talk to. I would beg God to take me back home to Finland. But at the time, there was no way for me to return to my mother.

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I've had a good life since I worked on the post-traumatic stress disorder which followed from my childhood experiences. It has taken me many years to understand what was wrong, and process my past. But since, I have had happy life with the love of my big family; three children and eight grandchildren and their children.

My childhood is still with me. Every time I hear the news of the plight of unaccompanied minors I am reminded of my own story. My childhood has inspired my activism for refugee children of war. On the 20th November, “A Day for the Children of War” the National Association of Finnish War Children in Sweden honour and provide important support to children of war around the world.

For more information about World Refugee Day visit: http://rfg.ee/xgTTx

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