Ukrainian children seek safer skies after fleeing horrors at home
Millions who have fled the war are searching for safety in the west of the country.
The war in Ukraine may have started in February, but for children living in the east of the country, hostilities have been a part of their lives since 2014.
For many, the renewed violence was more than they could bear. As the guns roared, millions packed their lives into bags and were forced to flee their homes. Now, a month later, the war has led to the displacement of 4.3 million children – more than half of the country’s child population. Of this number, 2.5 million are internally displaced within Ukraine’s own borders.
Many, like 12-year-old Danylo, have found a peaceful sky in Khust, Zakarpattia region, in the west, but are still haunted by the ongoing violence.
“Buildings are being destroyed,” he says, sadly. “Shells are falling, people are dying of fear, everyone is sitting in basements.”
Sixteen-year-old Vika fled a village in the Popasna district, where her mother still lives.
“We were talking on a messenger app and I heard the sound of an explosion,” she says. “And my mother said to me: ‘Love, I’m already falling asleep to these explosions like a lullaby.’ Is that normal?”
Like many of his peers, 12-year-old Volodymyr from the village of Vrubivka, in Luhansk region, has been living with the violence in Ukraine from a young age. Now that he has fled the devastating war in the east, he hopes to find peace.
“When I was three years old, my mother took me out in a pram, and a shell fell right next to us, 30 meters away,” he remembers. “Because of that, I stuttered for four years, then stopped. My father cured me with his special method. I don’t stutter now, although when there was shelling, I stuttered until we got here. When I heard silence, I stopped stuttering.”
Sixteen-year-old Katya saw much of her village destroyed. She left for the village of Nyzhnie Selyshche, in Khust district, but has been separated from her family.
"The shell hit my classmate's house,” she says. “It burned to the ground. All that was left was bricks. Another shell fell near my house, my windows were smashed. We have everything here – food, water, a place to sleep, a place to wash, but we miss our families. My family is under shelling right now.”
According to OHCHR, 78 children have been killed, and 105 have been injured in Ukraine since the start of the war on 24 February. Yet these figures represent only those reports that the UN has been able to confirm, and the true toll is likely far higher.
The war has had devastating consequences on children’s well-being and access to essential services, with attacks on health care facilities and schools, and an estimated 1.4 million people now without access to safe water. Over 450,000 children aged 6 to 23 months need complementary food support.
UNICEF and its partners are working to reach children in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries with humanitarian assistance, access to health care, mobile child protection teams and water and hygiene items for communities.
While there are fears that the violence that could have lasting consequences for generations to come, many children who have found safer skies still have hope for the future.
“Please do not be afraid,” says 12-year-old Danylo, resolutely. “Be brave, wise and happy. Peace is in our hands.”