“An explosion happened; we heard a lot of people screaming…we could not leave through the exit where lots of dead people were lying” – Zoriana*, 12, a survivor from Kramatorsk railway station attack in April 2022
“Children begin to stutter, to have sleep disorders because of memories” – Kateryna*, a child psychologist from Kharkiv
Zoriana*, 12, is drawing her home in Kramatorsk at her school in a village in western Ukraine..
An average of three children have been killed or injured every day in Ukraine since the escalation of the war nearly 500 days ago, Save the Children said today, with many more left so distressed they are struggling to sleep or speak.
From 24 February 2022 to 30 June 2023, the UN has recorded over 25,000 civilian casualties including 1,630 children, 535 of whom died, with 1,095 injured — on average three child casualties every day. In Ukraine, over 90% of civilian casualties are a result of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, which are especially deadly for children who have smaller, more fragile bodies.
March 2022 remains the deadliest month for children in the last 500 days, with more than 240 children killed and 260 children injured. While numbers of child casualties have dropped since full-scale war initially erupted, children in Ukraine are still killed and maimed regularly.
This year, June has been the deadliest month for children in Ukraine, with 54 child casualties. Numbers were pushed up by last week’s attack in Kramatorsk, during which 11 civilians died including 14-year-old twin sisters and another teenage girl.
Along with the constant threat of death or injury, children in Ukraine experience significant psychological distress from air raid alerts, missile strikes and shelling that hit the country every day.
Last April 12-year-old Zoriana* and her mother were about to board a train to evacuate to western Ukraine from Kramatorsk when a missile hit a crowded platform just a few metres away, trapping them inside the station. Around 60 people were killed in the attack, and over 120 injured.
“An explosion happened; we heard a lot of people screaming. My mother was afraid to get up because we thought there might have been another missile,” Zoriana recalled.
“Mother was very worried because we could not leave through the exit where lots of dead people were lying. There were a lot of children and adults killed, and she was afraid to leave that way. Someone rammed the door at another exit, and we went out. And then I saw the missile lying on the ground. Mother saw it, too, and she passed out.”
Witnessing this devastating attack has left Zoriana with heart problems and a psychological condition; she is also afraid of sirens and loud noises, but now she and her mother are recovering in western Ukraine. The 12-year-old girl attends dance classes, and she has joined Save the Children’s ‘Schools as Zones of Peace’ programme to learn how to advocate for children’s right for safe education.
To support children like Zoriana who have experienced acts of violence, Save the Children runs psychosocial support activities at Digital Learning Centres and Child Friendly spaces across Ukraine, where trained staff help children re-socialise and mentally recover after distressing events.
Kateryna* is a psychologist in a Child Friendly Space in Kharkiv and runs art therapy for children in the hope of helping them release stress via creativity. Demand is growing for her sessions, as more and more families continue to suffer from shelling and strikes that hit the city daily.
“Children begin to stutter, to have sleep disorders because of memories of how it was; they are afraid that these incidents might happen again. Art-therapy is a natural way for children to escape stress and transform their fears.
“We replace negative memories with positive ones; we look at the present; we learn how to find joy in every day, and remove anxiety caused by those memories, to make it fade away. So, it is great that now we have rehabilitation centres, psychological support centres, where children feel better and understand that that life goes on,” – Kateryna* concluded.
Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Country Director in Ukraine, said:
“500 days of war has brought over 500 child deaths in Ukraine. The suffering that children like Zoriana* have had to endure since full-scale war erupted is unimaginable. No child in Ukraine is safe. With the threat of missile attacks ever-present, a state of constant distress has become the new norm for children. The risk to children’s mental health and the potential for long-term harm cannot be underestimated.”
“Civilian buildings including schools, hospitals and civilian infrastructure should not be targeted under the rules of war. More than 1,600 children have already been killed or injured in 500 days – empty platitudes will not save children’s lives – these attacks must stop immediately.”
Save the Children is calling on all sides to adhere to obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, and ensure that civilians and civilian objects, especially those used by children such as homes, schools, and hospitals, are protected from attack.
Save the Children has been operating in Ukraine since 2014, delivering humanitarian aid to children and their families affected by hostilities. It is now also supporting refugee families across Europe and helping children to access education and other critical services.
*All names changed to protect identities.
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