The war in Ukraine is having a devastating impact on the 7.5 million children in the country. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, millions of children have seen their world shattered, their homes destroyed, schools defiled, and the adults around them desperate with fear. Until now 5,587 civilians have been killed, among them 362 were children. The numbers, officials say, are probably much higher. Of the ones who have survived, 6,6 million have fled to other countries. Behind these numbers are stories, stories of families and children, of grandparents and teachers, of nurses and neighbors. All innocent victims of a completely unnecessary war.
As the fighting continues, humanitarian needs increase. Children continue to be killed, wounded and deeply traumatized by the violence all around them. 2.8 million of the nation's children are internally displaced, meaning they have been forced to flee their homes, but are still living in Ukraine—mostly in temporary shelters. These children need humanitarian assistance. In addition to losing homes and loved ones, they also suffer when civilian infrastructure such as schools and hospitals are destroyed. Children fleeing war and violence are faced with a significant risk of separation from their family members, abuse, sexual exploitation and trafficking as well.
Then there is the long-lasting mental health toll war has on children. This is a crisis that is becoming more acute by the day. That many displaced families are out of work, in a temporary living situation, and in an unstable condition themselves, makes it harder for parents and caregivers to meet the children’s basic needs. Therefore, these children urgently need safety, stability, protection and phycological support. They will be defined by the war, scarred by it for the rest of their lives. This is why it matters that we reach the children of Ukraine right now, before it is too late. We need to prevent a “lost generation,” a generation of children who have had to sacrifice their education, friendships, passions and dreams. If not, their psychological scars will be too deep to be healed.
Children are resilient. If we can reach them as soon as possible, help them deal with what they have experienced, and help build a safety net of adults around them, then we believe children will be able to deal with their losses, suffering and emotions. The cost of unhealed psychological trauma is high. The effects are not just mental, but physical as well. It is documented that living be living under constant stress over longer periods of time can alter both brain structures and organ systems.
One way to combat the negative effects of trauma is through education. Schools provide children with social networks among peers, guidance from teachers and a routine that can provide a sense of normalcy in the middle of chaos. Sadly, according to UN reports, more than 2,000 of Ukraine’s 17,000 schools have been damaged by the war, and 221 have been totally destroyed. Additionally, 3,500 of the nation’s schools are being used as shelters to house the millions who have fled. Damaged and destroyed schools, and the fear of Russian attacks, have made it impossible for millions of Ukraine’s children to attend school since the war started.
The social destruction is impossible to measure. Thousands of families have been ripped apart as sons and fathers have been conscripted or killed, children and mothers fled, grandparents and other relatives left behind. There are continues reports of children having nightmares and aggressive behavior. An unknown number of children have been orphaned or separated from their parents. There are also reports of children who have been forcibly deported to Russia. Many of them may be children who have been separated from their parents.
The devastation the war in Ukraine has brought of children’s lives cannot be ignored. It is of utmost importance that the world addresses the urgent needs to strengthen the children and the adults who are closest to them. We cannot afford a generation of lost Ukrainian children.
Children are too valuable to be lost. They are the future.
While reliving trauma is dramatic, frightening, and potentially self-destructive, over time a lack of presence can be even more damaging. This is a particular problem with traumatized children. The acting-out kids tend to get attention; the blanked-out ones don’t bother anybody and are left to lose their future bit by bit.