A brutal war has robbed Ukraine’s children of an entire year of their lives


Peace, Security & Defence

Picture of Philippe Cori
Philippe Cori

UNICEF Deputy Regional Director Europe and Central Asia

Do not normalise the war

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One year ago, Russia escalated its illegal invasion of Ukraine to a full-scale, all-out war on a sovereign, European nation. Friends of Europe pays homage to the first anniversary of this unprovoked and unjustified attack with a series of articles, podcasts and events that tap into the expertise and experience of leading activists, Ukrainian officials, artists, NATO representatives, and security and defence experts and call upon us all to not normalise this war.

Europe, multilateral institutions and the global community have learned some tough lessons about the arrangements put in place to prevent acts of aggression or to guide our actions once they take place, including approaches to multipolar geopolitics, supply chains with illiberal nations, as well as Europe-wide and global agreements in a post-World War 2 world. The war has upended so much that we previously took for granted. For these reasons, normalising this war is not an option. Our commemorative activities aim to identify steps towards the ultimate goals of justice and peace.

Contributors include Friends of Europe’s Luke O’Callaghan White and Senior Fellows Jamie SheaChris Kremidas-Courtney and Paul Taylor; the Africa-Europe Foundation’s Youssef Travaly; Ukrainian European Young Leaders (EYL40) Emine Dzhaparova and Oleksandra MatviichukJaime Nadal, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative for Ukraine; Business Ombudsman Roman Waschuk; LGBTQ+ activist of KyivPride, Edward ReeseDavid Rowe, Professor and Fulbright NATO Security Studies Scholar; Borys Tarasyuk, former Ukrainian foreign affairs minister; journalist Maryana DrachInna Shevchenko, Ukrainian author, journalist at Charlie Hebdo and leader at FEMEN International; artist Markus Georg Reintgen; and Philippe Cori, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director Europe and Central Asia; and Giancarlo La Rocca and Alessandro Marrone of the Istituto Affari Internazionali.

Find out more here.

The children of Ukraine have now endured 365 days of violence, trauma, loss, destruction and displacement since the war escalated in February 2022. The country’s 7.8mn children have been robbed of 365 days of play, school, and time with friends and family.

As we enter another year of devastation and displacement, it is children who are suffering the deadly consequence of this brutal war. In areas across eastern and southern Ukraine, children continue to be caught in the crossfire of ongoing hostilities, while schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure on which they depend continues to be damaged or destroyed. Attacks on civilian infrastructure must stop.

More than five million children in Ukraine have had their education disrupted. This is in addition to the two years of learning lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without access to education, a generation of children from Ukraine will grow up without the skills they need to contribute to their countries and economies. Outside their home country, Ukrainian children also face challenges, such as integrating in a new school system and not speaking the local language. The integration of Ukrainian refugee children into the national education systems of host countries must be prioritised across all education levels, especially early childhood and primary education, with qualified teachers, learning materials and available spaces to support their face-to-face learning, development and well-being.

To avert a generation of children scarred by the war, their mental health and psychosocial needs must be prioritised

Children also continue to cope with fear, anxiety and grief associated with the loss of loved ones, separation from family, forced displacement from their homes, isolation and complete upheaval of their childhoods. An estimated 1.5mn children are at risk of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions. The mental wounds of war could affect children well into adulthood. To avert a generation of children scarred by the war, their mental health and psychosocial needs must be prioritised. Support must also be provided to parents and caregivers to help them deal with the distressing effects of the war and displacement, as well as help them better support their children’s mental well-being.

Additionally, access to primary healthcare remains a challenge for refugees in neighbouring countries due to language barriers and the limited capacity of national health systems to absorb increasing numbers of patients. We must continue supporting refugee-hosting countries’ health systems to expand capacities to meet the immediate and long-term health needs of refugees and other vulnerable children and families.

Organisations, such as UNICEF, have worked in partnership with local and national governments in refugee-hosting countries to increase their capacity to identify and provide care to unaccompanied and separated children, prevent violence against children, and set up gender-based violence prevention and response services.

In response to the increased risk of trafficking in persons, including children, UNICEF has trained frontline workers, including border police and social workers; strengthened key partnerships with organisations working on trafficking prevention, such as the European Union’s Europol, Agency for Law Enforcement Training (CEPOL), Frontex, External Action Service (EEAS) and the Council of Europe, or Interpol, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and OSCE; developed guidance for trafficking prevention; and provided access to key services to identify, support and respond to potential cases of trafficking.

This war has already robbed Ukraine’s children of an entire year. We cannot let this war rob them also of their future

Together with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, local authorities and partners, UNICEF has also established over 40 ‘Blue Dots’ in neighbouring countries. These are one-stop safe spaces along border crossings that provide children and families with information, support and referrals related to health care, education, psychosocial needs and more. Services available at Blue Dot hubs aim to assist all refugees, with a focus on children and those at greatest risk, people with disabilities, people who might have been trafficked and survivors of violence.

This war has already robbed Ukraine’s children of an entire year. We cannot let this war rob them also of their future. We must support the children of Ukraine and help them recover and rebuild their lives. The past 12 months have evidenced the type of humanitarian response that is possible when we come together in solidarity and partnership. As the conflict and displacement continue, we must remain flexible and pivot to meet the most urgent needs of the affected children. Continued support from the international community and effective multi-national or regional partnerships will be essential to support the children of Ukraine.

It is also critical to support Ukraine’s recovery plan and ensure that it meets the immediate and longer-term needs of children by strengthening the systems that support children’s health, education and protection, to ensure that all children – whether trapped in active conflict areas, displaced within the country or as refugees – have equitable access to all these services.

Current and future response and recovery efforts must ensure a deliberate focus on reaching the most vulnerable children, such as children in institutional care and children with disabilities. All efforts must benefit from continued close collaboration with local and national authorities to ensure the provision of essential, integrated social services and a continuum of care that builds resilience and equity for every child.

But, above all, the children of Ukraine need peace.

This article is a contribution from a member or partner organisation of Friends of Europe. The views expressed in this #CriticalThinking article reflect those of the author(s) and not of Friends of Europe.

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