Up to six million children trapped inside Ukraine are in imminent danger as an increasing number of hospitals and schools come under attack, Save the Children said.
Urban areas across Ukraine have been repeatedly shelled, reducing complete streets to rubble. At least 464 schools and 43 hospitals have been damaged. The relentless bombardment has forced at least one in five children in Ukraine – or more than 1.5 million – to flee the country. Nearly six million children remain in Ukraine, with many believed to be sheltering inside buildings that are coming under attack, leaving children vulnerable to injury or death, as well as to deprivation of food, clean water and health care.
In the besieged city of Mariupol, bombs hit a theatre and swimming pool on Wednesday where hundreds of people, including children, were sheltering. At least 21 people were reported killed the following day after an airstrike hit a school and community centre near the city of Kharkiv on Thursday.
Damage to essential services like schools and hospitals will increase if fighting continues, especially in populated areas. There are currently more than 300 health facilities in areas with active fighting or with a significant presence of military troops, and an additional 600 facilities are located within 10 km of hostilities.
Nearly half of all attacks on health systems worldwide this year have occurred in Ukraine, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). If forces continue to drop bombs and shell health facilities, thousands of children and pregnant women still living in Ukraine will be without life-saving health care.
Pete Walsh, Save the Children’s Country Director in Ukraine, said:
“Up to six million children in Ukraine remain in grave danger as the war in Ukraine nears the one-month mark. We are extremely alarmed by reports that bombs and intense shelling have damaged more than 460 schools across the country, and over 60 now lay in complete ruins. School should be a safe haven for children, not a place of fear, injury or death.
“The streets of Ukraine are being used as a battlefield. At least 59 children have already been killed in the escalating violence, according to the UN, with media reports indicating the number could be as high as 100.
“The rules of war are very clear: children are not a target, and neither are hospitals or schools. We must protect the children in Ukraine at all costs. How many more lives need to be lost until this war ends?”
While fighting is ongoing, there are international legal obligations to take all necessary precautions to protect civilians and civilian objects, including schools and hospitals, which are protected under International Humanitarian Law. Parties must uphold and protect the civilian nature of schools, students, and education staff – and refrain from military-related use of educational facilities. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas should also be avoided as it risks severe harm to civilians, in particular children. To date, these are the main causes for civilian harm.
Save the Children has been operating in Ukraine since 2014, delivering essential humanitarian aid to children and their families. This includes supporting their access to education, providing psychosocial support, distributing winter kits and hygiene kits, and providing cash grants to families so they can meet basic needs such as food, rent and medicines, or so they can invest in starting new businesses.