The war in Ukraine has created a child protection crisis of epic proportions. The outflux of people — mostly children and women — fleeing violence in Ukraine dwarfs all other refugee crises of recent years in terms of scale and speed.
As of mid-May, 7.7 million people were internally displaced and more than 6.4 million people — including nearly two-thirds of all children in Ukraine, at a rate of one child every second — had crossed into Poland, Romania, Moldova, Slovakia, Hungary and other neighboring countries, according to data from UNHCR, the UN's lead refugee agency.
The humanitarian situation inside the country continues to evolve and deepen at an alarming pace.
Even before the heavy weapons fire and air strikes on cities and civilian neighborhoods, insecurity and deprivation had become a way of life for families in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts due to a conflict that started in March 2014. Humanitarian needs have been particularly acute for those living in the vicinity of the 'contact line' separating government-controlled areas from non-government-controlled areas.
UNICEF response teams have been on the ground on both sides of the contact line for the past eight years, delivering humanitarian assistance to impacted communities. The socio-economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic only compounded existing hardships.
Together with partners, UNICEF has been steadily ramping up support focusing on the hardest-hit areas, and is committed to sustaining and expanding its emergency response — leveraging its existing relationships and longstanding programmatic presence to reach the most vulnerable.
That includes those who remain in Ukraine and those who have fled to neighboring countries.
UNICEF's humanitarian work in Ukraine focuses on meeting the most critical urgent needs for safety, health care, safe water and nutrition, protection while also safeguarding children's rights and long term well-being.
Schools and hospitals and critical infrastructure have all been and continue to be frequently targeted by attacks, disrupting and limiting access to esential services. For many years, and well before conflict started in the eastern region, UNICEF had been providing critical support to help close gaps in Ukraine's health system, particularly in the areas of childhood immunizations and HIV prevention. That support has been significantly expanded as UNICEF rushes essential medicines, midwifery kits, surgical kits and other lifesaving supplies to health facilities where women have been giving birth in makeshift basement bunkers since the war started.
More support is urgently needed to help fund UNICEF's response in and around Ukraine as the situation for children and families continues to deteriorate.
UNICEF is also reaching vulnerable children and families who have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries from two dozen "Blue Dot" support centers strategically located along transit routes.
Set up by UNICEF and UNHCR along with local authorities and partners, these Blue Dots are an integral part of the UN's broader inter-agency refugee response plan for the region. Assisting unaccompanied and separated children is a top priority. Protecting women and girls from gender-based violence and sexual exploitation is another.
Children have been killed. Children have been wounded. And children are being profoundly traumatized by the violence all around them. We must protect all children in Ukraine. Now. They need peace. — UNICEF Executive Director Catherine M. Russell
“Children have been killed. Children have been wounded. And children are being profoundly traumatized by the violence all around them," UNICEF Executive Director Catherine M. Russell said. "We must protect all children in Ukraine. Now. They need peace.”
Afshan Khan, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia said: “UNICEF is on the ground, doing its best to meet children’s basic needs, but the only way out of the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine is for the conflict to end."
At the start of 2022, UNICEF was appealing for $15 million to address urgent needs in the eastern region. By April 2022, as the humanitarian crisis deepened, that figure had risen to $948.9 million to provide multisectoral lifesaving support to children and their families, including $624.2 million to respond to critical needs within Ukraine and $324.7 million for the refugee response.
These appeals remain significantly underfunded.
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Top photo: Valeria arrived in Romania on Feb. 28, 2022, after she and her mother fled from their home in Khmelnytskyi, western Ukraine. They have relatives in Poland and in Italy, but have yet to decide where they will go next. © UNICEF/UN0599229/Moldovan