As winter bites, needs intensify for families in Ukraine
This winter, children are continuing to pay the price for the war in Ukraine
By the flickering light of a candle, 7-year-old Varvara is reading her favourite fairytale about a fox who fears the upcoming spring. But, unlike the fox, this youngster cannot wait for winter to end – temperatures here in Bucha, in Ukraine’s Kyiv region, have plummeted and the ongoing war has plunged her home into cold and darkness.
"The electricity has gone,” says Varvara, who is afraid of the dark. “It's just not there anymore. It switches on and off chaotically, both during the daytime and on nights.”
Victoria, her mother, lights candles so that Varvara and her 11-year-old brother Tymofiy can do their homework. But, in a multi-story apartment block where the heating depends on electricity, there is little to protect her family from the freezing temperatures.
As the war continues, winter is a challenge for many Ukrainian families. Due to intensified rocket attacks, Ukrainian cities suffer disruption to power and water supplies, leaving people without heating and water amid harsh weather conditions.
“If there is no light, there is no heat either”
One day, Tymofiy dreams of visiting the United States to see the country’s biggest skate park. For now, he studies English in the hope of making his dream come true.
By the light of the candle, Tymofiy carefully writes each letter of the word ‘fireplace’ in his English exercise book. This is exactly what is missing from the room.
"Mom bought firewood and alcohol to live in the village and light the stove,” says Tymofiy. “Because if there is no light, there is no heat either.”
Victoria and her two children fled the violence in Bucha earlier this year. Now, despite the cold, they are terrified of being forced to move again.
"It is warmer in a village where there is a wood stove,” says Timofiy. “Plus, it's easier to cook. But certain moments make the village uncomfortable for living, like a huge field nearby which may hide shells and mines.”
“Sometimes I'm afraid to walk through the corridor”
Varvara uses flashlights and candles to read, do her homework and find her way around the family’s apartment.
"I'm not afraid of outages during the daytime, but it's different in the evenings because I can't sleep without light,” she says. “Sometimes, I'm afraid to walk through the corridor as there is no light. I just don't like it when the power is cut off. It reminds me that the war is going on.”
During the day, Varvara and Timofiy’s school classes are often interrupted by air raid sirens. The ongoing war continues to deprive them, and millions of Ukrainian children across the country, from school, warmth, light and a happy childhood.
"I hate bombings,” says Varvara. “I got exhausted from it. My dad says that the war is going to end in the late spring, on my birthday. I'm not sure that this is an accurate date, but if it happens I will be super happy.”.
“Our life turned upside down”
Fifteen-year-old Vadin and 12-year-old Vladislav from Irpin are also feeling the cold this winter. In spring, severe shelling and violence devastated their home city of Irpin, and the family was forced to flee. When they returned, they found they no longer had a home.
Now, the family lives in their summer house. They have set up a stove and generator here, which help to see them through the power outages. But amid rising fuel prices, the family must spend what little money they have left carefully.
"Each outage lasts for four hours, but sometimes there is no power for a whole day," says Svitlana, the boys' mother. "When the war started, our life turned upside down. My kids are left without education, they lost their friends and their home. I lost my job."
Svitlana worries about her sons’ education, amid the constant power outages and air raid sirens. Some teachers in Irpin have not been able to get online over the last two weeks.
The outages also mean that even mobile phone service is disrupted and Vladislav desperately misses his friends.
"The war is when people are killed,” says the young boy. “It's endless explosions, gunfire, deaths and ruined houses. When you're worried about your relatives and friends, about yourself. This is fear and darkness.”
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and partners are working around the clock to expand programmes to save the lives of Ukrainian children and their families. More than 280,000 children have already been provided with educational materials, while more than 1.7 million children and their families have received mental and psychosocial support. Almost 4 million people in the most affected regions have received essentials and medicines.
To support vulnerable children during the winter, UNICEF and its partners will provide families with necessities, services and financial assistance. In addition to providing winter goods such as clothes, shoes, and blankets, UNICEF will also expand the list of services for children and the system of cash payments. Schools will be provided with heating systems and fuel, while hospitals will receive new generators and heat pumps. Moreover, 50,000 displaced children will receive winter clothes.