UNICEF, the U.N. Children’s Fund, is scaling up programs for millions of children in Ukraine threatened by Russia’s invasion.
Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, is under attack. Russian forces have entered the country from multiple directions. Deaths and injuries reportedly are growing. Since Russian President Vladimir Putin began his invasion of the country Thursday, the dangers to civilians have risen exponentially.
UNICEF regional director for Europe and Central Asia Afshan Khan warns the war is posing an immediate threat to Ukraine’s 7.5 million children.
“As we speak, there have been major attacks in Kyiv that have created great fear and panic among the population, with families really scared, moving alongside their children into subways and shelters. And this is clearly a terrifying moment for children across the country,” Khan said.
UNICEF has been providing humanitarian assistance to millions of children and families in Ukraine for eight years.
The agency has been particularly active in the Russian-backed searatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, where it has been trucking safe water to areas affected by conflict.
UNICEF has placed health, hygiene, and emergency education supplies in areas near the contact line. That is the 500-kilometer zone separating Russian-backed territories from the rest of Ukraine. The agency also has provided psychosocial support for traumatized children living in the volatile area.
Khan says needs are increasing with the escalating crisis. She says fuel is in short supply, as is the cash needed to buy emergency supplies of medicines, hygiene kits and other essential relief for people in the Donbas region and across the country.
“Obviously, Kyiv and the West have not suffered the same consequences. And now, as a result of the critical situation families and children are finding themselves in, we see an increased risk of fear, trauma, the need for shelter, the need for cash. And we will see an increasing need for additional supplies,” Khan said.
UNICEF says the needs of children and families are escalating in line with the conflict. The agency is seeking $66.4 million to increase access to basic services for up to 7.5 million children inside Ukraine.
It says the appeal will provide water and sanitation, immunization and health care, schooling, and learning. The agency says it aims to expand the number of mobile teams currently moving around the country providing psychosocial support to traumatized children. Boosting this service, it says, will allow it to keep pace with a fast-rising number of requests for psychological support, and care for children.
Meanwhile, the U.N. Refugee Agency warns that up to 4 million people may flee to other countries in Europe if the crisis escalates. Given this reality, Khan says UNICEF, with the refugee agency, and other U.N. agencies will issue a flash appeal in the coming days to support an influx of refugees in surrounding countries.
According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, more than 150,000 Ukrainians have already crossed into neighboring countries.