As subzero winter temperatures grip Ukraine this holiday season, some 7 million children continue to suffer the devastating impacts of war, including explosive weapons, heat and energy shortages, and the inability to go to school, either online or in person.
UNICEF is stepping up new initiatives and activities to ensure vulnerable children and families across the country get the financial, educational and moral support they need to survive this extremely difficult time.
The Ukrainian Railways holiday gift-giving train has reached Balakliia in #Kharkiv Oblast! --— UNICEF Ukraine (@UNICEF_UA) December 22, 2022
Children received UNICEF schoolbags filled with edutainment supplies, learning materials and stationery kits to help them continue their #education. -- @Ukrzaliznytsia pic.twitter.com/Bqn9lCLS6L
To provide some hope and support for families living near the front lines in eastern Ukraine, particularly in newly accessible areas like Kharkiv and Kherson, UNICEF and Ukrainian Railways teamed up to dispatch a special holiday train bringing festive performances and gifts intended to spark children's creativity and boost their spirits.
UNICEF contributed some 30,000 backpacks filled with supplies like notebooks, pens, colored pencils, sharpeners, modeling clay, colored paper, scissors and glue. In Balakliia, Kharkiv Oblast, a crowd of people pulled their coats tightly to keep out the cold and stepped forward to meet the brightly decorated train as it pulled into the station.
Children danced along with the music and posed for photos with the performers, happy for a few moments of respite from the hardships of war. A tiny girl in a fluffy hat looked up in awe at the man dressed as St. Nicholas. A little boy shouldered his new backpack and smiled.
UNICEF is also working with Ukraine's Ministry of Social Policy to provide $102 million of additional cash transfers to 123,000 vulnerable families, particularly families with four or more children and families that have a child with a disability, benefitting nearly half a million people, including children.
"The holiday season has brought little cheer to families in Ukraine, but we hope that, by providing some of the most vulnerable families with critical cash assistance and education supplies, we can bring a little hope to parents and children in the midst of an especially difficult winter," said UNICEF Ukraine Representative Murat Sahin.
Staying warm is top of mind for Ukraine's families; attacks on infrastructure have left heat and electricity in short supply. To provide families with access to heated spaces, UNICEF operates more than 140 Spilno — Ukrainian for "together" — Spots across Ukraine. The warm, child-friendly centers offer a sense of normalcy to traumatized children, along with psychosocial support, medical checks and referrals for other social services.
As soon as Balakliia returned to the control of Ukrainian authorities in September, UNICEF opened a Spilno Spot. The white tent filled with toys and colorful furniture is now a favorite destination for local children who have spent long months without school or a safe place to play.
"At a time when families look back at the experiences of the past year ahead to the new year, providing this small sense of normalcy and hope for the future, amid the most uncertain times, is critical," said Sahin. "As we have done throughout 2022, UNICEF will do everything we can to support Ukraine's children and families as we move into a new year."
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Top photo: On Dec. 20, 2022, a Ukrainian child receives a UNICEF backpack filled with art supplies and educational materials during holiday season celebrations at the Sloviansk railway station in the Kramatorsk district of Ukraine's Donetsk Oblast. © UNICEF/UN0755219/Filippov