For eight years, hundreds of thousands of children growing up in eastern Ukraine have been longing for peace. 

On February 10, 2022, 16-year-old Nastia led a visitor on a tour of her first school, just across the road from her family’s home in the village of Pavlopil, Donetsk oblast, eastern Ukraine. The building has been closed since it was damaged by heavy fighting in 2014.

Shelling, mines and missiles are a part of daily life for children growing up along the contact line

Her former classroom sits empty now; she can hardly recognize the floral wallpaper punctured with shell fragments. There are jagged holes in the roof and a burning smell in the air. Shelling, mines and missiles are a part of daily life for children growing up along the contact line.

“I attended this school from the first to the second grade,” she said. “Since then, I often dream in my heart that I wish that time back. There were many children and teachers. It was fun here. We played, read and ran here.”

“I don’t want the fighting to repeat, because it’s extremely scary,” said Nastia. “You don’t know where the shell will hit, what will happen next. You have to ask yourself — how would I cope with it? How can you help yourself to forget about it? I wish it was like before when everything was safe.”

“You don’t know where the shell will hit, what will happen next.” — Nastia, 16

More than 750 schools and kindergartens have been damaged since the violence began, disrupting access to education for thousands of children on both sides of the contact line. Parents concerned for their children’s safety keep them home from school even when classes are in session. 

To help children get back to learning, UNICEF supports repairs to damaged schools. In 2021,7,400 students — boys and girls — benefited from emergency repairs to education facilities including improvements to water and sanitation facilities. Another 8,200 children benefited from teacher trainings provided by UNICEF and its partners. UNICEF also provides psychosocial support for children traumatized by the chronic insecurity and distributes vital education supplies such as educational kits, furniture sets and sports equipment. 

UNICEF is on the ground delivering psychosocial support and education to children in Ukraine

Most of all, the children of Ukraine need to learn what it feels like to grow up in safety, without fear. “The past eight years of conflict have inflicted profound and lasting damage to children on both sides of the line of contact,” UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said in a statement on February 24. “The children of Ukraine need peace, desperately, now.”

UNICEF remains on the ground in Ukraine, working on both sides of the contact line to support education and other vital services, including health care and nutrition. Help UNICEF reach the most vulnerable. Donate today.

Top photo: On February 10, 2022 in eastern Ukraine, 16-year-old Nastia stands in a classroom of the empty school where she was once a student. © UNICEF/UN0597396/Filippov. Video edited by Tong Su for UNICEF USA.