KYIV/NEW YORK, September 1, 2022 – According to UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell at the end of her three-day visit to the country, the war in Ukraine has ruined the start of the new school year for the four million Ukrainian school-aged children.
“The beginning of the school year, when boys and girls return to the classroom and tell their friends and teachers about their summer adventures, should be exciting and promising,” said Kathryn Russell. “In Ukraine, however, what four million children are experiencing is anxiety. Students return to schools (many of which have been damaged since the start of the war) with stories of destruction, not knowing if their teachers and friends will be there to greet them. Many fathers and mothers consider not sending their children to class because they do not know if they will be safe”.
Thousands of schools across the country have been damaged or destroyed, and the government has deemed only less than 60% of schools safe and fit to reopen. On the first day of school in Ukraine, Catherine Russell visited a rebuilt primary school that had been damaged in the first weeks of the war. Due to the school’s capacity as a bomb shelter, the center will only be able to accommodate 300 students at a time, which is only 14% of its pre-war capacity.
UNICEF is working with the government to help Ukrainian children return to education in classrooms when it is considered safe, and online or through community-based alternatives when face-to-face education is not possible. About 760,000 boys and girls have received formal or non-formal education since the start of the war. More than 1.7 million children and their caregivers have benefited from UNICEF-led mental health and psychosocial support interventions.
“Schools in Ukraine desperately need resources to build bomb shelters instead of playgrounds, and children are not being taught road safety, but unexploded ordnance,” added Catherine Russell. “In Ukraine, this is the harsh reality that students, parents and teachers live with.”
The work to get boys and girls back to school includes rebuilding schools and providing laptops, tablets and materials to teachers and students, as well as guidance on how to stay safe during war.
“In Ukraine, the education of boys and girls is in serious danger. After more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and six months of war, his physical and mental health is under great pressure. The response to this sad reality that affects so many needs to be strengthened,” Russell explained.
Although there is an ongoing and imminent danger to the lives and well-being of school-age children in Ukraine, refugee children face other challenges. An estimated 650,000 Ukrainian children living as refugees in 12 host countries were still not enrolled in national education systems as of 31 July 2022. UNICEF has provided access to formal and non-formal education to around half of these children and is working with governments and partners to ensure that refugee children from Ukraine are enrolled in schools or receive online learning.
In Ukraine, UNICEF reached an additional 616,000 people, including the most vulnerable families, through humanitarian cash transfers. Donors have been extremely generous, but as winter approaches, there is a problem where needs may outstrip resources.
“Without peace, life for children and families in Ukraine will become increasingly difficult as winter approaches,” Russell said. “We know that sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow will arrive in just a few months, which is why UNICEF is working with the government and its partners to prepare winter supplies in advance, such as warm clothes, shoes, generators, radiators and pellets from wood”.
The Executive Director of UNICEF also met with First Lady Olena Zelenska, to whom he expressed his admiration for the work of the people of Ukraine, especially teachers, mothers, fathers and health professionals, as well as his gratitude for the historic partnership between the Government of Ukraine and UNICEF. He also discussed possible means of further strengthening the joint response to the humanitarian crisis and the importance of safe, timely and unimpeded humanitarian access to all children in need of life-saving support, in accordance with international humanitarian law.