As Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine nears the two-month mark despite countless war crimes allegations, Ukrainian civilians must try to pick up the broken pieces and attempt to save their war-torn country. Among those most affected by the violence are Ukrainian children, caught in the crossfire of Russia’s relentless attack on its neighbour.
Despite growing calls from the international community to end the bloodshed, Putin vowed on Tuesday to continue the invasion until his country emerges victorious, a promise that will keep innocent children near the front lines of a brutal war zone.
“Every day, the war continues,” Manuel Fontaine, director of emergency programs at UNICEF, said in a statement, “children will continue to suffer.”
According to UNICEF, more than 64% of Ukrainian children have been driven from their homes since the invasion began nearly seven weeks ago, a grim milestone that will likely have consequences for generations to come.
“They were forced to leave everything behind,” Fontaine said. “Their homes, their schools and often, their family members.”
Inside Ukraine, children, families and communities continue to be attacked. Those trapped in towns like Mariupol and Kherson, Fontaine said, have now gone weeks without running water and sanitation services, regular food supplies or medical attention.
Many of them are taking refuge underground, he added, waiting for the bombs and the violence to stop.
“UNICEF is deeply concerned about the plight of children and families stranded or unable to leave cordoned areas due to heightened security risks and lack of safe exit routes,” the agency said in a statement. hurry.
“The situation inside Ukraine is getting worse,” UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell said in the statement.
And beyond the country’s borders, conditions are no less dire as Ukrainian children are forced to grapple with the unfamiliar and harrowing reality of trying to escape a brutal war zone.
“Children hear explosions and are told to flee their homes with just the clothes on their backs,” said Emily Wight, global media manager for Save the Children, currently based in Lviv. Newsweek.
In one of our child-friendly spaces in Bucharest, Wight said, an 8-year-old boy was drawing. He drew a tank, two women and a burning house.
“The risk to their mental health and the potential for long-term trauma,” she added, “cannot be underestimated.”
Davyd, a 7-year-old boy from Bucha, recalled the terrifying events of his family’s evacuation from the city, Forbes reported, with vocabulary that reveals a childhood interrupted by war.
“When we were driving, we saw a lot of burnt out cars,” Davyd said, according to Forbes. “Some cars were shot down with children inside… When a plane was flying low, I felt something bad in my stomach. I threw up.”
As the war continues to escalate, increasing numbers of children are witnessing things no child should ever see – and the resulting trauma could last a lifetime.
“Children aged 2 to 5 are constantly playing and need a lot of attention,” said Raegan Hodge, CARE’s senior emergency communications officer based in Poland. Newsweek. “But around the age of 6, we witnessed more trauma.”
“Some children are deeply affected,” she added, “and either don’t respond or have run away.”
Voices of Children, a charitable foundation that aims to ensure that no child is left alone with the trauma of war, has given these children a voice to share their story with the world.
“Maria is only 10 years old. In a few weeks she will be 11,” read one blog post. “The girl is not expecting birthday presents because she thinks it’s not the best time for them.”
“My name is Lerochka, I’m 6 years old,” another blog post read. “Yesterday was terrifying sitting in the basement. Putin, get out of my country, get out of Ukraine!”
“How not to come back if our cat and dad are there? Solomon, a 10-year-old boy, said he returned to his home in Kyiv.
“Mom, I don’t want to be killed,” said another young child.
Whether across the border or inside the country, this war continues to be a nightmare for Ukrainian children – and time is running out to save them.
While on assignment in Ukraine, Fontaine met a young boy named Vlad in an intensive care unit in Zaporizhzhia, a city in southeastern Ukraine.
“His grandfather told me that Vlad was in a vehicle with 10 people when they came under fire,” Fontaine said. “Six people were injured, including Vlad.”
“Vlad, who is 4,” Fontaine added, “was shot twice in the stomach as he fled with his family from a contested area.”
Although still unconscious, Vlad should survive. But for countless others, their story will have a different ending.
The United Nations (UN) has confirmed the deaths of 142 children, UNICEF said, with nearly 230 injured.
“The true numbers are most certainly much higher given the scale of the attacks,” Fontaine said. “And they were injured where they should be safest – their homes, emergency shelters, even hospitals.”
For children who escape death, protection from further harm is far from guaranteed.
“Next to all the children’s drawings of Ukrainian flags and colored pages at train stations,” Hodge said, “there are posters for lost children.”
The inherent vulnerability of children, but especially those who have suffered the unthinkable, puts them at enormous risk of trafficking, exploitation and abuse. And this danger increases considerably when a child is unaccompanied.
Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s Deputy High Commissioner for Protection, spoke on Tuesday about the risks of trafficking and exploitation faced by refugees from Ukraine.
“We know that the risks of gender-based violence, trafficking, abuse, psychological trauma and family separation increase in times of conflict and displacement,” Triggs said, “but given the gender profile of this influx of refugees and the fact that many children fled alone, these are now multiplied.”
While data of this nature is difficult to verify, Triggs said, the UN agency remains on high alert and is actively working to counter any potential exploitation.
But much remains to be done, and there is little that humanitarian partners can do, Fontaine said in an urgent appeal to end the bloodshed.
“It’s time to end this war,” Fontaine said. “Ukrainian children cannot afford to wait.”