Lights in the darkness
Despite a year of conflict and devastation, Ukraine’s children have shown extraordinary resilience.
The children and families of Ukraine have now endured 365 days of violence, trauma, loss, destruction and displacement since the war escalated in February 2022. Millions of children have been robbed of birthday celebrations, school memories, time with friends and family.
365 days of children interacting with their classmates and teachers through a smartphone screen, rather than in a safe and warm classroom.
Once again, children are paying the price of a war not of their own making.
Plunged into cold and darkness
The war in Ukraine has caused significant damage to vital infrastructure, impacting children and families’ access to electricity, heating, water and telecommunications. Without electricity, children have been forced to cope with plunging temperatures in badly damaged homes.
For almost 2 million children in Ukraine, attending classes online is the only access to education, with thousands of pre-school, primary and secondary schools damaged or destroyed.
"I'm not afraid of power cuts during the daytime, but it's different in the evenings because I can't sleep without light,” says Varvara.
Varvara lives with her mother Victoria and his 11-year-old brother Tymofiy in Bucha, Kyiv region. Here, temperatures have plummeted, and the ongoing war has plunged her home into cold darkness. She uses flashlights and candles to read and do her homework.
“Sometimes, I'm afraid to walk through the corridor as there is no light. I just don't like it when there is no electricity. It reminds me that the war is going on.”
Despite these hardships, Varvara shows incredible resilience and hopes that the war will end soon.
Finding a blue dot of safety
While Varvara hopes that there will be peace on her next birthday, Andrei celebrated his 6th birthday fleeing war.
Jointly established by UNICEF and UNHCR, together with local authorities and partners, “Blue Dots” are safe spaces along border crossings in neighboring countries that provide children and families with critical information and services.
Here, UNICEF staff surprise Andrei with an improvised birthday cake – a Papanasi, a traditional Romanian dessert. It’s a small gesture that brings a huge smile to Andrei’s face, and is a welcome moment of joy after the trauma of displacement.
One year into the conflict
As attacks in populated urban areas go on unabated, families continue to be separated, and the lives of children inside and outside Ukraine torn apart. One year into the conflict, children continue to cope with fear, anxiety and grief associated with loss of loved ones, separation from family, forced displacement from their homes, isolation, and complete upheaval of their childhoods. An estimated 1.5 million children are at risk of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental conditions.
Children and families impacted by 365 days of war in Ukraine have shown tremendous resilience, but the mental wounds of this war could scar them for life.
Nine-year-old Diana left her hometown of Kharkiv, north-eastern Ukraine, in March last year and returned in July only to find her neighbourhood of Saltivka destroyed, including her old school. The remaining buildings have no gas or water. Blasts have left holes in the roofs and few windows remain intact. Diana was shocked to see the devastation left by the war.
“I started crying and asked my mother: why did you bring me here.”
Living in the midst of the fighting, the sounds and strikes of war are everywhere. Diana takes comfort in caring for her cat. “When there’s shelling, my kitten Murzik gets scared, and I hold him and kiss him and tell him, ‘Don't worry Murzik, it's going to be all right.’ And we sleep like that in the corridor,” she says. “Last night there was a lot of shelling; it was very noisy and Murzik was scared. I covered him with a blanket and kissed him until he fell asleep next to me.”
365 days of tireless work
In the 365 days since the war escalated in Ukraine, UNICEF has been working with national and local authorities, as well as civil society organizations in Ukraine and neighbouring countries to deliver emergency assistance, access to education, health and mental health support, and life-saving information to children and their families.
Varvara, Tymofiy and Diana are among the 1.4 million children who have continued learning in formal and non-formal education settings with the support of UNICEF. UNICEF has also supported more than 1 million children in accessing education in neighboring countries.
Teachers like Anastasiia, who used to be the deputy principal of a private primary school in her hometown of Odessa, Ukraine, are using their valuable skills to keep refugee children learning. Anastasiia arrived in Bucharest, Romania after fleeing war in Ukraine with her two-year-old son Kyril.
With the help of the Romanian Government and UNICEF’s school in a box kit – a portable classroom containing school supplies and materials for one teacher and 40 students – she and other Ukrainian teachers started a school for more than 200 Ukrainian refugee children aged 5 to 10.
Anastasiia teaches English, Ukrainian, Math and Science, but also cares about her students’ emotional wellbeing. “Some of these children went through the horrible experience of living in a basement, seeing people dying, not having food and water for several days,” she says.
“I don’t know how much time they will need to heal. They are full of hatred, but they are children, so I’m trying to give them the strength to stop hating”.
To assist children and their families deal with the distressing effects of war and displacement, UNICEF has launched a toll-free helpline in seven countries – including Ukraine – in collaboration with Child Helpline. UNICEF has also adapted its parenting app “Bebbo” into Ukrainian and Russian languages to offer quality advice and tips to mothers and caregivers to help them care for their young children and support their own well-being.
In refugee-hosting countries, UNICEF has helped over 1 million children access formal and non-formal education and more than 470,000 women and children access primary healthcare, including immunization. Over 1.2 million children and caregivers have received mental health and psychosocial support. A humanitarian cash-transfer programme has reached more than 53,000 households.
Children need peace. Now.
UNICEF salutes the extraordinary resilience of parents and teachers, social and health workers impacted by war in Ukraine, and the solidarity that individuals and entire countries across the world have shown to Ukraine’s children.
Children of Ukraine should not have to live through another 365 days of missed birthdays, school memories, time with friends and family. Support for the country’s children must continue, and we must make sure that this war does not rob them of their futures.
UNICEF also continues to call for unimpeded humanitarian access and an end to all attacks on children and the infrastructure they rely on, such as schools, hospitals and critical water, food, and energy systems.
The children of Ukraine need peace. Now.
Read more about UNICEF’s work supporting children and families impacted by the war in Ukraine.