The conflict in Ukraine, now in its second week, is taking a terrible toll on children’s lives and well-being. Millions of children could be caught up in the violence as fighting intensifies in and around urban centers.

Parents desperate to get their children out of harm’s way are leaving everything behind, making their way toward border crossings. At an air raid shelter in Lviv, western Ukraine, less than 50 miles from the border with Poland, local volunteers have donated toys, food and gifts for the children there, like 7-year-old Elvira. She doesn’t know the name of her hometown or which country she’s going to, but she knows she doesn’t want to leave her home. 

Half a million children and their families have already fled Ukraine for neighboring countries. The crisis has sparked a massive population displacement that could soon become one of Europe’s largest refugee crises since World War II. 

“While conflict continues, that’s the reality,” said UNICEF spokesperson James Elder. “And while that’s the reality, we need to support.”

UNICEF is working to meet the urgent needs of children caught up in conflict

Damage to Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure has left hundreds of thousands of people without safe water or electricity. Hundreds of homes have been damaged or destroyed; schools, orphanages and health centers are reported to have sustained heavy damage.

Children are especially vulnerable to being killed or maimed when weapons and explosive munitions are used in populated areas. Since February 24, 17 chlldren have been killed and 30 have been injured, according to the United Nations. Actual numbers are likely to be much higher. 

“The use of explosive weapons in cities could quickly turn this crisis into a catastrophe for Ukraine’s children,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia. “There are no armed operations of this scale that do not result in children being harmed. The consequences will be tragic.”

UNICEF is working with partners in Ukraine to reach vulnerable children and families with essential services including health care, protection, education, water and sanitation. Working closely with UNHCR, UNICEF is also scaling up its response to meet the needs of children and families in neighboring countries — Belarus, Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. These efforts include setting up 26 “Blue Dot” safe spaces along transit routes, where mothers and children can access services. 

“UNICEF is on the ground, doing its best to meet children’s basic needs, but the only way out of the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine is for the conflict to end,” said Khan.

UNICEF is appealing for $276 million for its programs inside Ukraine and an additional $73 million to assist children in neighboring countries. Help UNICEF reach the most vulnerable with lifesaving services. Please donate.

Top photo: On February 28, 2022, 7-year-old Elvira rests in an air-raid shelter in Lviv, western Ukraine. © UNICEF/UN0599197/Golinchenko. Video edited by Tong Su for UNICEF USA.