Despite recent developments intending to protect the rights of children affected by eastern Ukraine’s more than five-year-long conflict, nearly half a million girls and boys continue to face grave risks to their physical health and psychological well-being, said UNICEF today.
“It is unconscionable that children in eastern Ukraine continue to go to schools with bullet holes and bomb shelters and live in neighbourhoods that are intermittently shelled and littered with landmines,” said UNICEF’s Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, Afshan Khan, who recently returned from meeting children and families in eastern Ukraine. “A political solution is long overdue. We call on all parties to the conflict to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine.”
Ms. Khan acknowledged that the Ukrainian Government’s recent endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration is a positive step to better protect education from attack and to reduce the military use of schools, but emphasized that more than five years of conflict have been devastating for children on either side of the contact line. This includes;
- 172 children, the youngest a one-year-old girl, have been injured or killed due to mines or other explosive remnants of war.
- 36 attacks on schools were reported this year alone, including one school being damaged 15 times. Over 750 educational facilities have either been damaged or destroyed since the conflict began.
- Vital water and sanitation infrastructure have come under attack 80 times this year. There have been more than 300 of these incidents in the last three years.
- 430,000 children live with psychological wounds and need ongoing support to address the emotional trauma of growing up in a prolonged conflict.
- 2 million children, women and men are at risk of death and injury from landmines and other explosive remnants of war, as eastern Ukraine is now one of the most mine-contaminated places on earth.
“The children I met in eastern Ukraine have hopes and dreams like all children but have suffered tremendously after five years of living in constant danger,” said Ms. Khan. “UNICEF and partners stand ready to support measures to further protect children and ensure the full implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration,” she added.
Across eastern Ukraine, UNICEF and partners provide psychosocial support and mine risk education to hundreds of thousands of children, youth and caregivers. UNICEF also supports repairs to damaged schools and kindergartens and vital water and sanitation facilities.
In 2019, only 37 per cent of UNICEF’s emergency appeal to support children and their families in eastern Ukraine was funded. Water, sanitation and hygiene activities including water trucking, provision of water treatment chemicals and providing uninterrupted access to safe water had an even larger funding gap of 80 per cent.