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Ukrainian Catastrophe

Lviv, Ukraine, panoramic view (Courtesy photo for education only)

Lviv, Ukraine, panoramic view (Courtesy photo for education only)

By James Elder (UNICEF) Lviv – Ukraine – “The past year has been one of violence, fear and loss for the children of Ukraine. There is not a single aspect of children’s lives that the war has not been impacted, with children killed, injured, forced from their homes, and missing out on critical education.


Amid the death and displacement, the stress and fatigue, Ukrainian families now face a worsening fiscal crisis. The loss of income, and the energy and socioeconomic crises triggered by the war are devastating families. UNICEF analysis suggests the percentage of children living in poverty has almost doubled to more than 80 per cent. This is in the space of one year.


Thousands of children fleeing conflict across the country are also missing vital vaccines to protect them from disease. This is in no small part due to the more than 800 health facilities that have reportedly been destroyed or damaged by shelling and airstrikes. In response, UNICEF has provided healthcare services to five million children and women.


And as we seek to alleviate just another form of stress on Ukrainian families –increasing poverty – UNICEF has provided multi-purpose cash assistance to almost a quarter of a million households in Ukraine.


We have provided learning supplies to more than one million children in Ukraine, and access to safe water for more than 5.5 million people


But as we approach the one year mark, Ukrainian children have become aware that the world is unstable, unpredictable, and can be a terrible place. Such a loss of a basic sense of safety has a catastrophic effect on their learning and emotional and social development.


Their invisible wounds that must be healed through sustained efforts to prioritise children’s mental health needs. As part of that response, UNICEF has provided mental health and psychosocial support to 4.6 million children and caregivers.


Of course what Ukrainians need most of all is an end to hostilities. But as children experience every day, that is not their reality.


I arrived in Ukraine almost a year ago to the day, here in Lviv. This morning I went to the hospital where innumerous times I have met the achingly brave medical staff, who act as both surgeons and counsellors.

Surgeons for children with horrendous wounds of war – in a war where shelling from heavy artillery and missile and air strikes have consistently struck where children should be safe – and counsellors to those broken parents who, despite everyone’s efforts, leave hospital without their children.


An hour ago I sat with yet another bright, articulate, brave Ukrainian child. This time a teenage boy – his body is tormented by shrapnel wounds, the result of an artillery attack as he sought to get water for his family near Bakhmut.  He is in immense pain, but focused on the unknown whereabout of his two sisters. Down the corridor was a two year old girl – also from Bahkmut– paralyzed after another artillery attack.


The year of imposed suffering on Ukraine’s children appears to have no end in sight.

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