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 23 February 2024
Two years of destruction and displacement, violence, separation from family members and friends, as well as disrupted schooling, health care and social services, have led to a mental health crisis and a learning crisis among Ukraine’s children.
Despite their resilience, for many children inside and outside Ukraine the war has wiped out two years of schooling, playtime with friends, and moments spent with loved ones, robbing them of their education and happiness, wreaking havoc on their mental state.
UNICEF was in Ukraine before the war escalated and has since increased its reach, staying to deliver for children. 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, with millions of people forced to flee their homes. Some children have fled alone, increasing their exposure to abuse, sexual exploitation, and human trafficking. Children are being robbed of their childhoods, of time with friends and family, of a peaceful life. They bear invisible scars and trauma that may take a lifetime to heal.
The war 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. Pre-schools, 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 challenging 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 across the country, around 40 per cent of Ukraine’s children cannot access continuous education due to a lack of facilities. In areas nearer to the frontline, half of school-age children are unable to access education.
Meanwhile, many children who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries are also struggling to access education, health care, and protection services, and, as the war rages, face the prospect of long-term displacement and deprivation.
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 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 conflict broke out, and since its escalation two years ago 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:
Continuing to work to ensure the functionality of heating infrastructure and providing winter clothing and blankets to keep children warm.
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 water supply networks have been damaged or destroyed, and providing sanitation and hygiene supplies.
Enabling people to access healthcare with supplies distributed in war-affected areas.
Reaching vulnerable 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.