Three million children in Ukraine face even greater risk after two years of war

21 Feb 2024 by World Vision
Three million children in Ukraine face even greater risk after two years of war

The war in Ukraine is about to hit the two-year mark and millions of children are still in urgent need of mental health support, education, and protection.

More than 6.4 million people have fled Ukraine in the past two years, while more than 3.6 million displaced within the country itself.

There are some 3.3 million children within Ukraine who need support with basic needs including food, heating, shelter, education, and mental health support.

A recent World Vision survey of Ukrainian children, both within Ukraine and in surrounding countries found that children were most concerned about their safety and security; the safety of family members in Ukraine; difficulty making friends in a new country; disruption to education; and a sense of loss of their Ukrainian identity.

World Vision New Zealand’s country programme director, Andy Robinson says research suggests that some 1.5 million children are at risk of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the war.

“Children in eastern Ukraine live with the daily fear of attacks, black-outs, air raids, and uncertainty. Those who have escaped live with terrible memories and the fear that they may not see their fathers or other family members ever again.

“Childhood should be a carefree time of play, learning, and development, but for so many Ukrainian children it is filled with terror. A bright future for millions of children hangs in the balance as this war continues,” he says.

Only a third of children in Ukraine are regularly attending school. Many like 9-year-old Eva from Lviv Oblast have online schooling regularly disrupted by attacks and air raid alarms.

Eva is worried for her father who is fighting on the frontline. “I just want my father back,” she says.

Robinson says World Vision New Zealand in conjunction with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade has funded a programme in Romania to support children’s education, mental health and protection.

The project provided 17 safe learning spaces, the recruitment of more than 200 teachers, the provision of laptops to enable online learning, and support and accommodation to integrate families into the local community. More than 15,000 children and families have been supported through this programme.

“This project has been so heartwarming. These safe learning spaces have become places where children could come together to play and socialise with each other. And where their mothers could meet and support each other.

“It became a place where friendships developed not only between refugees but between refugees and staff and volunteers from Romania. It’s been beautiful to see,” he says.

In Ukraine, a child friendly space in Kyiv has helped 12-year-old Viktoriia realise she is not alone. “I can still dream in spite of the war and I want to become a diplomat,” she says.

However, Robinson says the need is still huge both within Ukraine and in neighbouring countries and it’s important that countries, like New Zealand continue to support refugees and displaced persons.

Robinson says that the introduction of the Special Ukraine Visa and the recent extension to provide a pathway to residency is a great move, but the $1200 fee is prohibitive and should be removed.

“New Zealand might be on the other side of the world, but there is still more tangible support we can offer to the people of Ukraine.

The special visa allows Ukrainians with a connection to this country to come here, but the cost of getting here, the start-up costs to establish in a new country, and then the residency fee is prohibitive for many people who have been left with nothing. We need to remove these sorts of barriers,” he says.

Robinson says with no signs of the war slowing, the future remains challenging for those in Ukraine.

More than 17 million people in Ukraine and surrounding countries will need humanitarian support in 2024.

World Vision New Zealand in conjunction with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade is currently funding a programme in Moldova to provide food and other essentials for highly vulnerable refugees.

“We know that winter is one of the toughest times for people who have fled Ukraine and for those who remain in the country. In -20º degree temperatures it is bitterly cold, and families have little access to electricity and heating. We work hard to provide heating, blankets and food, but it is a really challenging time,” he says.

World Vision’s work has reached more than 1.6 million people since the war began, nearly half of them children.

The organisation’s Ukraine Response Director, Chris Palusky, says more is required from governments, donors and other agencies.

“This is not a sprint - this is a marathon. It is a challenge we must not give up on, no matter how tough and complex. We must continue to support, advocate and provide hope for Ukraine’s children,” he says.

To donate to children and families affected by the war in Ukraine, click here