Five Years of Conflict in Eastern Ukraine: Children hope for the future

As the conflict in eastern Ukraine enters its fifth year, around half a million children remain at risk.

UNICEF Ukraine
01 March 2019

As the conflict in eastern Ukraine enters its sixth year, around half a million children remain at risk. Many urgently need emergency protection and humanitarian aid, including access to clean drinking water, a safe environment to study, qualified healthcare and psychosocial support.

For some children, going to school has become extremely dangerous. During 2018, 16 educational facilities suffered from shelling and another 50 facilities were temporarily closed. Hundreds of schools have been damaged or destroyed.

The situation is particularly worrying for 400,000 children who live near the contact line, where they can step on unexploded weapons of war or be caught in crossfire.

Over EUR 4.5 million in support from the European Commission’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department  enabled UNICEF to reach hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable children since the conflict started in eastern Ukraine. With the EU humanitarian funding in 2018, UNICEF has provided over 26,600 children and adolescents with education supplies, child protection services and improved access to safe drinking water near the contact line. It has also helped to repair hundreds of schools.

Meet just some of the children who desperately need this support.  In January, together with  'Implement a Dream' Charity Foundation, we visited to Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine to conduct the workshops and ask children, affected by the conflict, about their most cherished dreams. 

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UNICEF

Vania, 10, fled the city of Donetsk together with his family in summer 2014. They briefly lived in Nikopol, before moving onto Mariupol and Dobropillia. The family never stopped looking for safer and better living conditions, only staying in each place for a few months. Finally, they settled in Kramastorsk.

“Our entire family is still in Donetsk,” says Vania. “We come to visit grandmas and grandpas, and our apartment in Donetsk that was not damaged but is empty with nobody to look after it. The most important thing is that the conflict ends and there is peace.”

Vania has had to change schools five times in the past five years. Every time he moves, he must find new friends and opportunities to grow. One of the few stable things in his life is basketball. He dreams of becoming a train driver.

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UNICEF

Vania’s friend and basketball teammate Andrii is also internally displaced. His family was forced to leave home, as well as relatives and a small business, because of the conflict, moving first to Sviatohirsk and then Kramatorsk.

Andrii’s grandparents, who have not seen their grandson in almost five years, remained in Donetsk. His father is afraid to travel with them due to the danger of crossing the contact line and shelling. However, in January, he was forced to cross the ‘line’ to take care of Andrii’s seriously ill grandfather and the farm.

Like Vania, Andrii loves basketball.

“I would like to meet the greatest basketball players in person – Michael Jordan or Kyrie Irving,” says the boy. “But it is not possible. Jordan is already retired, they said goodbye to him a year ago. Still, it is one of my biggest dreams, to watch his match from the audience.”

In the summer of 2014, 14-year-old Ladymyra and her family left their hometown of Kramatorsk and moved to a different part of Ukraine, away from the dangers of the contact line. It was nerve-racking – a new town, a new school, a new environment, where she had to adapt to new surroundings.

Last year, Ladymyra returned to Kramatorsk for the first time. She was relieved to see more children in classrooms than before.

She drew a castle, saying: “For me, it symbolizes protection, wellbeing. I want my family to be protected, and for things to be good for us.”

In two years, Ladymyra will graduate and hopes to study architecture or law at university. But to do that, she will have to leave home once more.

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Dina, 8, dreams of becoming a cartoonist and illustrating Japanese comics. In order to do that, she has started learning Japanese herself.

In Kramatorsk, where Dina lives, there are no Japanese teachers so she studies using free mobile applications and YouTube channels. And she is already making progress – she can talk and sing in Japanese and enjoys watching manga. She dreams of studying Japanese calligraphy and finding a good dictionary.

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Nastia, 8, who shares a school desk with Dina, dreams of becoming a geologist. She loves nature and hopes to open a zoo. She would like a dog, but has yet to talk her parents into letting her keep one in such an unstable environment.

The lack of mental health and psychosocial support services in eastern Ukraine, especially along the contact line, has a big impact on children like Nastia. Psychosocial support remains one of the forms of help that is most requested by people who have been affected by the conflict.

With the support of the European Union, UNICEF is providing children with educational materials and organizing workshops on life skills and psychosocial support for teachers.

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UNICEF

Bohdan and Danylo, 9, are internally displaced. Along with their families, they were forced to leave Donetsk when they were young.

Every day, for over half their lives, the boys have faced danger from shelling and landmines. But even amidst conflict, life goes on. Children’s games such as football or Japanese manga series make them happy.

“I dream to meet Messi or Ronaldo, and I would like to return to Donetsk,” says Bohdan. “But it is more fun here already than it used to be at first.”

 

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Anna, 15, dreams of visiting Europe’s mountains.

The teenager says that in her native region the mountains are very low, although she was impressed on a recent trip to the Ukrainian Carpathians.

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There are 42 internally displaced children studying at #9 school in Kramatorsk. Schools near to the contact line admit more and more displaced children each year, increasing the number of children in each classroom and affecting the quality of learning, workload of teachers and emotional support for children.

Most of the children dream about safety and peace in their country.

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Fifty-eight educational facilities have been damaged by conflict over the last two years, and 65 schools have closed. In May and June of 2018 alone, ten educational institutions came under attack and children at eight schools were forced to learn remotely because of the fighting on both sides of the contact line.

With the support of the European Union, UNICEF is providing children with educational materials and organizing workshops on life skills and psychosocial support for teachers.