UNICEF has been supporting vulnerable children and families in Ukraine since 1997 — expanding and extending that work when conflict erupted in the eastern region in 2014, and then deploying a full-on emergency response as war escalated in 2022. UNICEF remains on the ground in Ukraine meeting urgent needs.
How UNICEF is helping children in Ukraine
UNICEF's humanitarian work in Ukraine has always focused on meeting critical needs for health care, safe water and nutrition, while also safeguarding children's rights and long term well-being and helping to strengthen critical systems and essential services.
For many years, and well before conflict started in the eastern region in 2014 — escalating sharply on Feb. 24 2022 — 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 war intensified across Ukraine, UNICEF rushed essential medicines, midwifery kits, surgical kits and other lifesaving supplies to health facilities where women were giving birth in makeshift basement bunkers. And it has been extended across all major program areas, from water and sanitation to education to child protection.
UNICEF's humanitarian action in Ukraine — and in refugee-hosting countries — continues nonstop alongside partners to meet urgent needs.
UNICEF's humanitarian response to war in Ukraine
The war in Ukraine has left 27.3 million people — including 7.1 million children — in need of humanitarian assistance.
Some 6.5 million people are internally displaced inside the country, while another 7.9 million people — 90 percent of them women and children — have fled to Europe and beyond.
UNICEF's ongoing humanitarian response efforts have already reached millions of these impacted children and their families.
In health, over 4.9 million children and women in Ukraine have been able to access primary health care in UNICEF-supported facilities and through mobile teams.
In water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), over 4.6 million people have gained access to safe water for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene.
Nearly 3 million children and caregivers have been reached with mental health and psychosocial support services.
In child protection, over 236,000 women and children have been reached by UNICEF-supported gender-based violence prevention, risk mitigation and response services.
In education, with UNICEF's support, close to 1.5 million children have been able to get back to learning, either in a school or in an informal setting.
UNICEF-funded multi-purpose humanitarian cash transfers have helped 309,100 vulnerable households.
Within weeks of the escalation of war in Ukraine, the UNICEF USA Bridge Fund provided UNICEF with $15.2 million in accelerated funding to support rapid mobilization of resources and procurement of emergency supplies. Learn more about the Bridge Fund.
War in Ukraine: a child protection crisis
The war in Ukraine created a child protection crisis of epic proportions. The rapid outflux of people in the days and weeks following the Feb. 24, 2022 escalation of conflict dwarfed all other refugee crises of recent years in terms of scale and speed.
In less than three months, 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.
By the end of December 2022, 7.9 million refugees had been recorded across Europe.
Conflict in eastern Ukraine since 2014
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. The socio-economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic had only compounded existing hardships.
UNICEF's emergency response teams have been on the ground on both sides of the contact line since 2014, delivering humanitarian assistance to impacted communities. As war escalated, they quickly expanded in number and reach, ramping up emergency operations focusing on the hardest-hit areas.
Having already established relationships with local partners — and a programmatic presence in the country since 1997 — helped UNICEF scale relief operations quickly.
Assisting refugees from the war in Ukraine at 'Blue Dot' safe spaces
UNICEF is reaching vulnerable children and families who have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries at 'Blue Dot' refugee 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.
Between Feb. 24 and Dec 31, 2022, UNICEF reached 732,340 people with support services at one of 40 Blue Dot hubs.
Helping Ukrainian refugees in host countries
UNICEF works with governments and other local partners in 19 countries to provide health care, education and other support services to Ukrainian refugees. So far, through these efforts, UNICEF has helped:
- 433,701 women and children with access to primary health care
- 100,350 people, including children with safe drinking water
- 588,778 children with education support, including early learning
UNICEF has also supported emergency cash transfers to 113,253 households, directly and via governments. Messages on preventing violence and exploitation — including human trafficking — and how to access to emergency relief services have reached over 10 million people.
UNICEF continues to ship emergency supplies while helping to shore up WASH and child protection services at border crossings and accommodation sites, and to help scale up and sustain quality education, health and child and social protection services for Ukrainian refugees and their host communities.
UNICEF reports details of its response and impact for refugee children and families in Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and many other countries in situation reports posted here.
“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."
Help UNICEF save and protect Ukraine's most vulnerable children and families. Your tax-deductible contribution can make a difference. Donate today.