As the war in Ukraine continues and temperatures plummet, UNICEF and partners are supporting Ukrainian families with much-needed winter clothes, mental health support and access to education.
Almost two years after the escalation of war in Ukraine, nearly 4.7 million Ukrainians who fled the country have returned to uncertain living conditions. More than 3.7 million remain internally displaced.
To help parents struggling to keep their children safe and healthy this winter, UNICEF is distributing warm clothing kits for kids across Ukraine with support from partners including the USAID Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (BHA).
Two families share their stories.
Waking to fighter jets overhead in southern Ukraine
Svitlana will never forget the morning that the full-scale war broke out.
"At five in the morning, a fighter jet flew over our house,” the mother of six recalls. “I ran into the house and said that war had started. No one believed me.”
"I thought that if they hit the house, it would be better if we all died at once." — Svitlana, mother of six
Overnight, the southern city of Podilsk, where Svitlana and her children lived, came under fire. She tried to explain what was happening to her children, but it was difficult for them to understand. Suddenly, their world seemed to collapse.
"I thought that if they hit the house, it would be better if we all died at once," she recalls.
Bundled up for winter, ready to build snowmen
One day, the family’s home was damaged in a missile attack — the ceiling collapsed and water and heat were cut off. Not long after, a multidisciplinary mobile team run by UNICEF and the Winds of Change Charitable Foundation met with Svitlana. They helped her family move into subsidized housing in Odesa.
"To be honest, before moving to this house, my children didn't know how it was to have a toilet and a bathroom inside their home. They used to wash in a bowl,” says Svitlana.
To help prepare them for the cold winter, UNICEF provided the children with winter clothing sets. The sets included a hooded jacket, woolen hat, scarf and gloves, sweater, woolen socks, a set of thermal underwear, winter pants and shoes.
"Our record was three snowmen. This year, we will set another record because it will be warm in our new clothes." — Dmytro, 9
Thanks to their new winter clothing, the children are excited about the snow. "Last year, my brothers and I made huge snowmen and, for a nose, we used a real carrot,” says 8-year-old Kyrylo.
“Our record was three snowmen," says 9-year-old Dmytro, Kyrylo's brother. "This year we will set another record because it will be warm in our new clothes.”
Multidisciplinary mobile teams provide mental health support for families at home
The mobile team continues to support Svitlana and her family. "Svitlana turned to us for mental health support for herself and her children,” says psychologist Tatyana Cherkova. “Now our team is working with the eldest girl, Iryna, and we can already see positive dynamics."
School provides a much-needed sense of normalcy for children growing up in conflict zones
The children have started at a new school in Odesa. The older children take English classes twice a week, and 5-year-old Ilya has a teacher who is preparing him for first grade.
"I want to learn something new and am eager for more,” says 14-year-old Iryna. “I want to be a programmer, so I need to focus on math. I don't know what will happen next, but I'm sure this winter will be much better than the last one.”
A happy home in eastern Ukraine, despite the remnants of war
In the house where young siblings Sasha, Vika and Mariya live, a shell has punctured the wall between the hall and the bedroom. Out in the garden, a metal shell casing from a rocket lies in the center of a black crater. Yet despite the horrors of war and a freezing winter, you can still hear laughter emanating from inside this shattered home.
The children find joy in simple things. Nine-year-old Sasha and his sisters, 8-year-old Vika and 4-year-old Mariya, love to play with their cats. And today the family has received a special delivery – warm clothing sets and blankets from UNICEF with the support of the BHA, to help them endure the cold.
"Inside my box, I found a jacket, socks, boots, mittens, a hat and scarf, pants and a warm suit. The boots and the thermal suit are my favorites. It's black, like a ninja's,” says Sasha.
"The boots and the thermal suit are my favorites. It's black, like a ninja's." — Sasha, 9
"I got a jacket with crocodiles. It's exactly what I wanted!” adds Mariya.
Families have been displaced multiple times by the war
This is the third house the family has lived in since the start of the full-scale war in Ukraine. Their own home and their grandmother's have been completely ruined.
And they are not alone – the ongoing fighting has devastated towns and cities like Izium, in Ukraine’s Kharkivska oblast. Here, more than 80 percent of buildings lie in ruins, the shelling continues and mines line the outskirts.
Receiving warm clothing will transform the children’s lives this winter. Marina, their mother, lost her job due to the war, so the family has struggled to buy firewood to keep warm. They also lost many of their belongings in the fierce fighting of 2022.
UNICEF supports online education in areas where schools have been destroyed
"Everything in Izium is in ruins, schools and kindergartens have been destroyed,” says Marina. “The children stay at home. I am with them all the time because it's too risky to leave them alone. There was a shooting today and there are wounded people. Finding even a few hours of work is impossible.”
Without the winter clothing sets, the children would have been forced to wear old clothes that were too small for them.
"I can't even imagine the cost of dressing them myself. Probably more than 15,000 hryvnias. We just don't have this money,” says Marina.
"I was an excellent student in math, but now it's hard to understand everything. I also want to go to school to play football with the boys again." — Sasha, 9
Currently, Vika and Sasha study online. Thanks to UNICEF and the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, they received tablets for temporary use for home study. However, the children miss the routine of school and their friends.
"I studied better before everything went online,” says Sasha. “I was an excellent student in math, but now it's hard to understand everything. I also want to go to school to play football with the boys again.”
Meanwhile, their mother can only make short-term plans. For now, the main thing is to help her family survive the difficult winter ahead.
"We've changed homes multiple times, and we have nowhere else to go. So, we only hope for peace and assistance." — Marina, mother of three
"We've changed homes multiple times, and we have nowhere else to go,” Marina says, sadly. “So, we only hope for peace and assistance. It's tough to endure here without help.”
UNICEF is staying and delivering for the children of Ukraine
As harsh winter conditions continue in Ukraine, UNICEF has reached 49,910 children in eastern and southern Ukraine with winter clothing kits. About 110,000 sets of clothing are being distributed to families with children in difficult life circumstances, victims of gender-based violence, families raising children with disabilities, internally displaced people, foster families, children in residential care and others.
Every child has the right to a healthy childhood. Your support for UNICEF can make a difference in the lives of children growing up in difficult circumstances around the world. Please donate.