INTERVIEW: Ukrainian children express ‘innocent hope for peace’

Three siblings pose in clothes provided by UNICEF.
© UNICEF/Aleksey Filippov
Three siblings pose in clothes provided by UNICEF.
  • UN News

The deaths of over 10,000 civilians have been verified by the UN human rights office (OHCHR) since the invasion began in February 2022, although the actual number of fatalities could be much higher.

Over 10 million people have been forced to flee their homes, including more than 6.3 million who have sought refuge outside Ukraine.

The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, was working in Ukraine before the conflict and has remained there to provide support and services.

Munir Mammadzade is the UNICEF Representative in the country. UN News asked him how children, in particular, are being impacted by the conflict.

Munir Mammadzade sits with a young Ukrainian in a UNICEF-supported facility.
Munir Mammadzade sits with a young Ukrainian in a UNICEF-supported facility.

Munir Mammadzade: The main challenge faced by Ukraine is the damage and destruction that continues to impact critical infrastructure, including thousands of schools and hospitals, drinking water supply systems, sanitation systems as well as energy infrastructure and heating systems.

Almost every day we hear news about schools and hospitals being affected, children getting injured; even this morning we received news of an attack in Kharkiv.

The longer this lasts, the more people are affected, especially children. Nearly two-thirds of children in Ukraine have been forced to flee their homes at some point during this war.

Children are already among the most vulnerable to the impacts of the war. Besides insecurity from constant air attacks and air alerts, their lives have been interrupted so they are missing out on schooling, socializing with friends and their social emotional development.

Seventy-three per cent of Ukrainians have reported a decrease in their income and this affects the well-being of children in families. Some parents are unable to provide children with just the basics like winter clothes, appropriate nutrition and blankets.

UN News: What are some of UNICEF’s priorities in Ukraine?

Munir Mammadzade: UNICEF works across health, with a focus on maternal and child health to early childhood development, education, skills for adolescents and young people as well as protection issues.

We have ramped up our efforts with the Government of Ukraine and local authorities to support children and families including the distribution of 44,000 winter clothing sets and, particularly right now, other winterization-related measures.

The lives of children have been severely disrupted by the war in Ukraine.
© UNICEF/Aleksey Filippov
The lives of children have been severely disrupted by the war in Ukraine.

We continue to work with the local authorities to keep critical infrastructure running such as water, heating, health and education facilities.

I have been to Marhanets, one of the communities that is very close to the frontline and witnessed how community members and children are directly benefiting from this UNICEF support.

Here and in other frontline areas, households have received fuel to cover their needs. And we have distributed 40 generators to water utility companies to ensure that systems can keep running.

UN News: How badly affected is the provision of education?

Munir Mammadzade: Some 5.3 million children face barriers that prevent them from accessing quality and comprehensive education; 7,000 schools remain inaccessible as they are closed due to insecurity. Some were damaged or destroyed and others are being used in the conflict, forcing children to learn online.

Children across Ukraine are showing signs of widespread learning loss, including deterioration in learning outcomes in language, reading, math, and other core subjects.

We also support educators who are on the frontline of educating children who we must not forget are themselves vulnerable.

UN News: What are you most proud of in your work?

Munir Mammadzade: In many places you will see UNICEF-supported facilities where children and parents come together, where children can enjoy their childhoods and get support and referrals to different services.

I’m also proud of the creativity of UNICEF to deal with the many challenges that people face here.

At the same time, there is a lot ahead of us because of the scale of war and the deprivations that people are facing.

This country is at the crossroads of a humanitarian and social crisis. The workforce is not large enough to provide basic services, so partners like UNICEF will of course stay and deliver.

UN News: What is your impression of how Ukrainians are coping?

Munir Mammadzade: It is the hope that people have that has struck me most. The resilience of Ukrainian people and their unwavering spirit to rebuild, their incredible kindness towards one another and to foreigners like myself and their determination to protect their children’s future. That gives us all hope.

I see this determination from the political establishment in Kyiv and amongst governors and mayors, but also amongst service providers and families and even children.

And the commitment from humanitarian workers, who risk their safety to deliver life-saving aid and psychological support for children and families; this all gives me hope that there is a brighter future for Ukraine, powered by children's dreams and their innocent hope for peace.

© UN News (2023) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News