Amid war, Ukrainian mothers fight for a healthy future for children
Many children are still in need of vital vaccinations against polio, diphtheria and other diseases.
Even war will not stop Hanna Omelchenko, a 30-year-old mother who fled Kyiv with her family, from getting her children vaccinated.
“I believe that vaccination is really the least we can do for our children,” she says. “Not so long ago, many children were dying from dangerous infections or suffering terrible consequences. Now medicine and science allow us to get protected.”
A few weeks ago, Hanna was cradling her twin sons in their basement as the shells pounded the ground above. Now, having found a safe place to stay in Uzhgorod, a city in western Ukraine, she is determined to give one-year-old Solomiya and Myron a shot at a healthy, peaceful future.
Yulia Dovhanych, who founded a medical center in Uzhgorod, is one of the doctors helping her to secure it.
"War is not a reason to avoid vaccination,” says Yulia. “On the contrary, now all of us, both doctors and parents with children, need to be even more disciplined and take better care of our health.”
Many Ukrainians like Hanna have found themselves far from home, without a family doctor. There are 50,000 internally displaced people in Uzhgorod alone. And, as the violence in Ukraine escalates, so too does the risk of infection outbreaks.
At the end of last year, an outbreak of polio was reported in the country’s Zakarpattia and Rivne regions, resulting in the paralysis of at least two children. Now, these regions are seeing the arrival of some of the highest numbers of internally displaced persons from across the country.
Yulia, who has been working as a doctor for 11 years, knows all too well how crucial it is for children to be vaccinated.
“It is extremely important to protect children from polio, because there is no cure for this disease,” she says. “And it can have grave consequences, such as lifelong paralysis. Vaccination protects against such consequences and death from the disease."
In Uzhgorod hundreds of displaced families have turned to local health facilities to get their children vaccinated. Some children will see a doctor for the first time, having been born only recently.
“I am glad that I found a medical center, where the children and I feel comfortable and where we get everything we need,” says Hanna. “I want to address Ukrainian mothers – vaccination is really the least you can do to protect your child. If you are not under fire and are safe, do not hesitate to vaccinate your children! All the barriers you may think of are nothing compared to the threats posed to your baby by infectious diseases.”
"Everyone has their own fight now,” adds Yulia. “Our fight is against infectious diseases. It is a fight for health. There is no cure for polio. But there is a reliable protection – vaccination.”
In the past months, millions of Ukrainian families have fled their homes and now face an uncertain future, meaning that thousands of children across the country are missing vital doses of vaccines to protect them from polio, measles, diphtheria and other life-threatening diseases. Before February 2022, a steady and measurable process has been achieved in revamping routine immunization rates to pre-pandemic levels.
Now, low immunization rates, coupled with an ongoing polio outbreak, limited access to hygiene, and overcrowded waiting and transit points in others, pose a serious threat of infectious diseases outbreaks in Ukraine.
UNICEF is providing ongoing support to the government of Ukraine and its national immunization program through training health professionals, helping to set up and maintain the vaccine cold chain system, launching communication and behavior change campaigns on the importance of vaccination, and combating misinformation about vaccines.