200,000 Children Need Urgent Support in Eastern Ukraine: UNICEF

On 13 February 2017, first-grade students in eastern Ukraine, including 6-year-old Sasha (in red sweater), participate in a drill to practice their response to a shelling. Photo: UNICEF / UN053119 / Zmey
On 13 February 2017, first-grade students in eastern Ukraine, including 6-year-old Sasha (in red sweater), participate in a drill to practice their response to a shelling. Photo: UNICEF / UN053119 / Zmey

More than 200,000 children – or 1 in 4 – in the two regions most severely affected by the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine require urgent and sustained psychosocial support to address the trauma of living through more than three years of violence.

The 200,000 children in critical need of support live in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, within 15 kilometres of each side of the ‘contact-line’ that divides government and non-government-controlled areas and where fighting is most intense.

“The world has forgotten about this invisible crisis in eastern Ukraine, but hundreds of thousands of children are paying a heavy price, one that could last a lifetime without adequate support. We urgently need funds to reach these traumatized children,” said UNICEF Ukraine representative Giovanna Barberis.

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According to UNICEF, children nearest the ‘contact-line’ have been living in chronic fear and uncertainty due to sporadic shelling, unpredictable fighting and dangers from landmines and other unexploded ordinance. Many risk their safety to get an education.

Seven schools were damaged during the most recent escalation of violence in February and March 2017, and more than 740 schools – 1 in 5 in eastern Ukraine – have been damaged or destroyed since the conflict began in 2014.

Parents, teachers, school directors and psychologists continue to report striking behaviour changes in children as young as three years old. Symptoms include severe anxiety, bed-wetting, nightmares, aggressive behaviour and withdrawing from families and communities.

The majority of the 200,000 children in need of sustained psychosocial support in eastern Ukraine are not receiving adequate care. Services are stretched and underfunded.

Dedicated social workers, psychologists and specially trained teachers are working around the clock. However, as the conflict drags on, UNICEF says additional investments are required to meet these children’s needs.

UNICEF is appealing for US$31.2 million to support children and families affected by the conflict in eastern Ukraine. This includes US $5.5 million for child protection services and psychosocial support.

So far UNICEF says it has received less than a third of its funding requirements and child protection is critically underfunded.

Photo courtesy: UNICEF

RMN News

Rakesh Raman