The U.N. Children’s Fund reports more than 1,000 children are forced to seek refuge in underground bomb shelters in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk because of ongoing fighting and heavy shelling.
UNICEF says these children are living in appalling conditions, suffering enormous levels of stress and are in urgent need of help.
The agency staff is expressing surprise at the depth of suffering and deprivation to which some of the children are being subjected.
A UNICEF team recently visited Donetsk, which is under intense fire from both government and rebel forces.
Speaking from the capital Kyiv, UNICEF Representative in Ukraine Giovanna Barberis told VOA the team was able to go to rebel controlled areas. She said they did a hurried assessment of 12 underground bomb shelters and found an estimated 1,000 children hiding there.
“Now, obviously, parents and adults are with these children. But children are not going out very often because, of course, the awful security situation. So, they are dropping out of school or not being able to receive proper health care. We are monitoring the situation but, of course, we are very, very concerned with the situation of these children that are really, that seem to be very much at risk,” said Barberis.
Barberis described the underground bomb shelters as unsanitary, crowded and freezing. She said the children are traumatized and many are at risk of disease due to lack of hygiene and vaccines.
Barberis said even before the crisis the number of children vaccinated against killer diseases was low. She said only about 50 percent of Ukraine’s nearly eight million children have been vaccinated. She added that a possible resurgence of polio was particularly worrisome.
According to Barberis, an estimated 1.7 million children are affected by the conflict in eastern Ukraine, with those in shelters especially hard hit.
“They are living without proper heating, lack of sanitation, limited water and food supplies and, certainly, they have also been the hardest hit by the extremely harsh winter weather condition... And, lack of medicines in the area of ongoing fighting put children’s lives really in danger,” said Barberis.
UNICEF has provided hygiene kits to more than 1,100 children and adults living in shelters and basements. The agency says it soon will begin providing winter clothing kits to at least 10,000 vulnerable children in the conflict-affected areas.