Traumatised children in Ukraine bearing the brunt of conflict

Children in conflicts

Children in Ukraine are being traumatised by the ongoing conflict and suffering both mental and physical consequences.

At least 140,000 children have been internally displaced by the fighting – but that figure is probably “much higher” according to United Nations officials who visited the country.

They are missing out on schooling, vaccinations and other medical supplies, clean water and other basic living standards. Returning children to school will only be possible after unexploded mines are cleared from many sites. And children – along with women and the elderly – are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the ongoing crisis, according to John Ging, Director of Operations, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Just back from a multi-agency trip to Ukraine and Nigeria, he said: “We saw the first-hand consequences of conflict. Five million people are in need of human assistance, including 3.2 million who are highly vulnerable. Some 1.7 million people have fled their homes and over one million are internally displaced.”

He said temporary orders to restrict movement of people and goods across the conflict line were severely hampering efforts to get aid to those in need. About 1.4 million people require health care and the centres that are open are struggling to care for the sick who were moved from damaged and destroyed clinics.

A six-year-old orphan who has been displaced from the city of Bryanka, Ukraine Picture: UNICEF/Krepkih

Mr Ging added: “We have witnessed and have also been told of real shortages of basic medical supplies such as cancer drugs, pain killers and even antibiotics.” He warned of the long-term consequences of the protracted crisis, saying: “No child has been vaccinated since this conflict began and again it’s the children that are the most vulnerable and are bearing the brunt here.”

He was accompanied by Afshan Khan, Director at the Office of Emergency Programmes at the UN children’s fund UNICEF. Talking about the plight of children in Ukraine, she said 1.7 million of them are bearing the brunt of the emergency, including 140,000 who have been internally displaced. She warned the displacement numbers are likely “much higher” because people, particularly children, are hesitant to register as displaced for fear of losing the right to the homes they fled.

She added: “Children living in or forced to flee conflict areas have suffered enormous stress and have witnessed unimaginable violence.” Holding up two drawings made by children at an orphanage she visited during her mission, Ms Khan added: “These pictures are from children who are obviously traumatised from the fighting.”

She told how she had visited a bomb shelter where the water and sanitation situation was “very disturbing.” The children living there had been impacted psychosocially from the violence that they have experienced. But staying in a shelter without clean water and hygiene is also having a lasting impact. Ms Khan said: “Living in those cramped quarters is an experience no child will forget.”

UNICEF has boosted its vaccination efforts with the planned delivery of 4.8 million polio vaccines, the first batch by the end of April. Also 200,000 families and children have been educated on mine-risk. Ms Khan said that, in addition to expanding school access, the focus must be on children living in institutions, those with disabilities and those infected with HIV/AIDS.

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