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UN: Children Bearing Brunt of Ukraine War

FILE - Children of internally displaced Ukrainian people, who abandoned their homes in Donetsk, play with donated toys during a food distribution drive in central Kyiv, Oct. 25, 2014.

The U.N. Children’s Fund reports that the conflict in Ukraine is having a terrible impact on more than 1.7 million children.

The United Nations estimated that more than 1 million people have fled their homes since March because of fighting between government forces and Russian-backed rebels. About half of them are displaced within Ukraine, and most of the others have gone to Russia.

Kristen Elsby, regional chief of communications for UNICEF for central and eastern Europe and central Asia, said children account for at least 130,000 of the displaced, while tens of thousands remain in the areas of conflict.

“We are very concerned that children are paying the highest price in this growing crisis in Ukraine," Elsby said. "Damaged infrastructure, water shortages and hampered access to medical facilities in the areas of ongoing fighting are putting children’s lives at risk. ...

"Children are also at risk of communicable diseases due to the lack of hygiene supplies, medicines and vaccines in conflict-affected areas. ... Exposure to the violent fighting and shelling is affecting their psychological well-being.”

New data show that with 147 schools closed because of the fighting, some 50,000 children in parts of Donetsk have not been going to classes since September. UNICEF said some schools are in ruins and others have been shut because of safety concerns.

Elsby said the situation is also bleak in government-controlled areas, where 187 educational institutions have been damaged or destroyed.

“There are limited opportunities for displaced children to be integrated into the education system in host communities elsewhere in Ukraine," she said. Some parents, she added, are not registering their children in schools "as they expect further displacement or intend to return home.”

UNICEF said it is critical for children to go to school, especially in the midst of a crisis. It said school provides children with stability and structure, which helps alleviate the trauma of living in conflict zones.

The agency said it needs $32.4 million to provide urgent aid for 600,000 children and their families. It said the weather is bitterly cold and people need warm clothing, shelter, hygiene items and medicine.

The money also will be used to provide hundreds of thousands of conflict-affected children with school supplies, psychological counseling, polio vaccines and safe drinking water.