War in Ukraine: Support for children and families
The war has been devastating for families. UNICEF and partners are on the ground providing support for those in need.
Updated 13 September 2023
The children and families of Ukraine have endured more than 16 months of escalating violence, trauma, destruction and displacement. Children continue to be killed, wounded and deeply traumatized by violence that has sparked displacement on a scale and speed not seen since World War II. Schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure on which they depend continue to be damaged or destroyed. Families have been separated and lives torn apart.
UNICEF was in Ukraine before the war escalated, and in the months since has stayed and delivered. We stand with the children of Ukraine and will continue working with partners to support them through the war and beyond.
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What’s happening in Ukraine?
Ukraine’s children are paying an extraordinary price in lives lost and upended. The war has resulted in death, injuries and mass displacement – nearly two thirds of children have been forced to flee their homes. Some have fled alone, increasing their exposure to abuse, abduction, sexual exploitation, and human trafficking. Children are being robbed of their childhood, of time with friends and family, of a peaceful life. They bear invisible scars and trauma that may take a lifetime to heal.
The conflict has caused significant damage to vital infrastructure, severely impacting access to electricity, heating, water and telecommunications. Families’ incomes and access to services have been decimated. Hundreds of pre-school, primary and secondary schools have been damaged or destroyed by bombing and shelling, disrupting the education of Ukraine’s children, with potentially lifelong consequences. The upheaval of war has created a particularly tenuous situation for displaced children, those living in institutions, and children with disabilities.
Schools and other educational facilities are not only places of learning – they also provide a crucial sense of structure and safety for children. Yet almost half of children in Ukraine are struggling to learn online or through a mixture of online and in person classes. Hundreds of thousands of the country’s preschool age children are yet to step foot inside a classroom, robbing them of the opportunity to build a strong foundation for learning.
Meanwhile, many children who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries are struggling to access education, health care, and protection services, and, as the war wages, face the prospect of long-term displacement and deprivation. By July 2023, an estimated two thirds of Ukrainian refugee children were not currently enrolled in national education systems in their host countries.
The war in Ukraine is robbing children of stability, safety, school, friends, family, a home and hopes for the future. The mental wounds of the war could affect children well into adulthood. To avert a generation of children scarred by the conflict, their mental health and psychosocial needs must be prioritised. This should include age-appropriate actions to provide nurturing care, build resilience, and especially for older children and adolescents, give them opportunities to voice their concerns and realize their own agency.
Support must also be provided to parents and caregivers to help them deal with the distressing effects the war and displacement have had on them. This will ultimately equip them to also better support their children’s mental well-being.
The war has sparked displacement on a scale and speed not seen since World War II – with far-reaching impact across the region and beyond.
UNICEF welcomes the international solidarity shown to Ukraine’s children and to those across the globe negatively impacted by the war. But as the conflict and displacement continues, support is still needed across the region to ensure refugee children are not left out.
How is UNICEF helping children and families?
UNICEF was in Ukraine before the war broke out, and throughout the past year has stayed and delivered. In countries hosting refugees, UNICEF works with national and local authorities, as well as civil society organizations, to deliver emergency assistance and support services to families fleeing war in Ukraine.
Inside Ukraine, this includes:
Providing learning supplies to children and engaging children in formal and non-formal education.
Reaching children and caregivers with mental health and psychosocial support including through gender-based violence response services.
Enabling access to safe water for people living in areas where networks have been damaged or destroyed, and providing sanitation and hygiene supplies.
Enabled people to access healthcare with supplies distributed in war-affected areas.
Reaching households inside Ukraine with multi-purpose cash assistance.
In neighbouring countries, UNICEF support includes:
Working with local governments and refugee-hosting municipalities to provide access to formal and non-formal education for refugee children.
Enabling access to safe water for drinking and domestic needs.
Supporting ministries of health in neighbouring countries to provide access to primary health services to refugee women and children.
Reaching households with cash transfers.
What UNICEF is calling for
- An end to attacks on the critical infrastructure children rely on, including schools, hospitals, energy, water and sanitation systems.
- Respect of humanitarian principles, international humanitarian law, and human rights law, including to end and prevent grave violations against children.
- Recovery inside Ukraine that focuses on and encourages the active participation of children and young people.
- Strengthening of national policies, programmes, and services to ensure they are equitable, creating opportunities for refugees and vulnerable children.
UNICEF will engage as and where support is needed to reach affected populations, including children.
UNICEF has been in Ukraine for many years and has maintained a principled humanitarian approach in past instances of violence and conflict, to ensure continued access to vulnerable populations. Since the start of this war, UNICEF together with UN partners, has continued to advocate for the respect of humanitarian principles, international humanitarian law, and human rights law, including to end and prevent grave violations against children.
Above all, UNICEF will continue to advocate for an end to hostilities.
Children need sustained peace to regain their childhoods, return to normalcy and begin to heal and recover.