Desperate, Ukrainian families risk everything to flee military actions
As the violence escalates in Ukraine, millions of people continue to flee their homes, particularly in eastern and southern areas of the country.
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As the war in Ukraine escalates, thousands are continuing to flee the danger at home. Many attempt to evacuate using trains or buses. But leaving can be just perilous, as railway stations and cars become a target.
Nevertheless, at Kramatorsk railway station, where a rocket attack recently killed more than 59 people, including at least seven children, many children and their families are still departing for safer cities in the west, such as Lviv, Uzhhorod and Khmelnytskyi.
Olena and her five children – Ksenia, Diana, Mykola, Volodya and Vitalik – managed to board an evacuation train at Kramatorsk station on 7 March, a day before the tragic attack.
“Planes flew very low over our village,” says Ksenia, the eldest daughter. “My little sister Diana was scared and screamed a lot. When we were walking on the street, we saw a rocket in the sky. It was very scary.”
Since the war in Ukraine began on 24 February, at least 197 children have been killed and more than 351 injured. Yet these figures represent only those reports that the UN has been able to confirm, and the true toll is likely far higher.
In response, Ukraine’s Government has officially established an intersectoral national coordination task force on child protection, of which UNICEF is a member. The task force is composed of line ministries responsible for children’s issues, the Human Rights Ombudsman and the Presidential Commissioner on Child Rights, civil society organizations, law enforcement and justice agencies, and the border patrol force. Its aim is to urgently and jointly address critical issues related to child concerns, including border crossings, evacuations, support for unaccompanied and separated children, prevention of trafficking and exploitation, and tracking the relocation of children in state custody.
In addition, the UNICEF-supported national toll-free Child Helpline is providing online consultations to children, caregivers and youth. On average, 1,000 calls are being received per week. Among the calls received in past weeks: 34 per cent were related to provision of information on internal displacement and evacuation issues; 21 per cent were related to mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of children; and 4 per cent were about unaccompanied and separated children. More than 54 per cent of calls were referred to other service providers, namely Social Protection Centers for family, children and youth, police, free legal aid and mental health service providers and NGOs. A chatbot called ‘Dytyna Ne Sama’ (meaning ‘the child is not alone’) for unaccompanied children is also in place.
Since 24 February, more than 9,000 applications for temporary fostering have been received from Ukrainian families, including 240 from international organizations and 68 from international NGOs. Twelve mobile child protection teams continue to operate in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, including in Severodonetsk, Kreminna, Novoaidar, Stanytsa Luhanska and Shchastia, where they are providing phone counseling to people in bunkers. Despite services being hampered by a lack of electricity and internet connectivity, the teams reached 569 people during the reporting period.