War in Ukraine - "For four days I was working from the basement"
UNICEF is on the ground in Ukraine, working to reach children in need. Tatyana Fannouch, a Child Protection Officer in Ukraine, shares her experience
We asked Tatyana Fannouch, a Child Protection Officer working in Ukraine, to share her experience of daily life in the war-torn country and how the devastating conflict impacted her professional as well as personal life.
Tatyana, where are you right now, and how is the situation there?
Now we are in our office that moved to Lviv. It's a big city around 100 kilometers from the border with Poland. There is no place in Ukraine, no city that is safe. Actually, today, just two hours ago, we had a shelling and several rockets attacked the city.
How did the war impact your daily routine?
Daily routine stopped the moment the war started. On the 24th of February at 4 am, I woke up with a feeling that something will happen. I just felt something was in the air… tension and incomprehensible fear. I was in Kyiv and my kids were with my parents in eastern Ukraine. Suddenly, there were several thunderous explosions. I stood motionless for a minute because fear gripped my body, but my brain continued working. I experienced 2014 and remember all the details living 15km away from the line of conflict. But now, I was in Kyiv where nobody expected a war in the 21st century.
For four days I was working from the basement, trying to find out where my colleagues were. Meanwhile, my kids were in another part of Ukraine and I didn’t know how to get them out to a safe place. Days passed like weeks, hours like days. All of us got older in years. It’s not a metaphor, my eyebrows literally turned gray when the UNICEF convoy helped to evacuate my parents with kids from the shelled city. 24/7 work became our routine, hotels and rented apartments became our homes, all children of Ukraine became our children.
For four days I was working from the basement, trying to find out where my colleagues were. Meanwhile, my kids were in another part of Ukraine and I didn’t know how to get them out to a safe place.
Child Protection in the time of war
As a professional in the area of Child Protection, what are your priorities right now?
Some of the regions are heavily shelled and people need life-saving services. We developed an emergency work plan for six months. We started a lot of procurements, a lot of supplies, and we continue to work with the government as well. So, now this is a different work - very much strategic.
I just returned from a mission which we organized for the Ukrainian Ministry of Social Policy. We visit children evacuated in Poland, Germany and Italy to see how they are dealing with the problems. We try to connect the Ukrainian government with hosting countries and facilitate cooperation and coordination of the response, to meet the needs of these children.
People on the move in transit points need a separate approach. A lot of children were evacuated to bordering countries, but other - among them, also children with disabilities - relocated to the western parts of Ukraine. Reaching evacuated children was a challenge, because we had no partners, only military. Civilians fleeing heavily shelled cities were attacked. It's horrible when you see a family with a small child dead in a car because they didn't make it to a safe place.
We try to identify partners - which is very difficult because a lot of international big NGOs just stopped operating due to the security situation. We try to focus on local, small NGOs but the capacity is quite low.
What other interventions are you currently employing in the country to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children impacted by the war?
Amidst the horrors of the war in Ukraine, public spaces such as train stations, theatres and gyms are being transformed into temporary shelters for the millions forced to flee their homes. People are offered places to sleep, warm food, necessities and psychological help.
In March, we teamed up with Ukrainian Public Health Foundation to launch 50 mobile teams to reach families and children in western and central parts of Ukraine with psychosocial, legal and medical support. The project will help with basic needs, and work to strengthen coping mechanisms and resilience.
What would you say to those interested in applying for jobs in the Ukraine emergency response?
In Poland, in Romania and other offices, Child Protection professionals can work with the local governments to identify how to support refugee children arriving in their territories. This includes access to education and social protection systems, such as psychosocial support, and accommodation for the most vulnerable ones.
Tatyana, is there a message you'd like to send?
I would like to say a big thanks to the child protection team that continues working and delivering for children. Their courage is amazing. I'm very grateful that I have this team and we are supporting each other. All of us have families that are also struggling, but we continue and in the most difficult situation we stay together.
Tatyana has worked as a Child Protection Officer at UNICEF's field offices in Mariupol and Kramatorsk. She has two degrees: psychiatry and auditing, an education that enables her to bring an enriched perspective to child protection programmes. She is a single mom of two wonderful kids, 12 year old Sofiya and 10 year old Iosyf.
Considering the urgent need to scale up our emergency response in Ukraine and neighboring countries, we are urgently looking for dedicated staff to bolster our response in all areas of our work.
While UNICEF is scaling up efforts to support children and their families fleeing the war in Ukraine, we remain present in humanitarian emergencies around the world, committed to continue the delivery of critical life-saving support to children and young people.