The war in Ukraine is destroying the lives of millions of children.The bombing of a children’s hospital and maternity ward last week put children in the direct line of fire, adding to the already enormous danger for them in this war.
SOS Children’s Villages staff in Ukraine brought more than 100 children and foster families to safety in Poland within the first week of the invasion. We moved a further 500 foster children and caregivers to safe locations in other neighbouring countries since.
But many more children remain trapped, exposed to the danger of ground battles, bombings, starvation and freezing temperatures. About 1.5 million children live in cities and towns in active war zones where access is blocked. There is no food, no electricity, no access to medicine, no fuel for generators, and no way to call for help.
Among the most at risk are the thousands of children isolated in state residential institutions. They face a high risk of neglect, violence, and trafficking. They urgently need professional humanitarian support to be evacuated. Their situation is dire.
Many institutions are alarmingly understaffed as people continue to flee the country. Those who stayed behind can barely give essential care. Children with disabilities and special needs face an especially high risk of neglect.
Through our network of partners, in cooperation with the Ukrainian Commissioner for Children’s Rights, we are working to rescue these children left behind in institutions and other forms of alternative care. Тime is running out. Half a million have left the country already. By the time of this writing, 109 children have been killed, with another 130 wounded. Those left behind will grow up with fear and trauma.
The legacy of this war will be a traumatised generation. They immediately need safe ways to evacuate children and families. We must support the Ukrainian government to bring these institutionalised children to safety and provide them with quality care that meets their individual needs.
The Ukrainian government is currently reviewing legislation to address the evacuation of children from institutions, including the relocation of children to other countries. Any evacuation must be done respecting their rights and the highest child safeguarding standards.
Vital humanitarian aid, including mental health and psychosocial support, must be provided to all children and their caregivers, as well as for alternative care professionals, both in Ukraine and in countries hosting refugees.
As the number of civilians fleeing continues to rise, we urgently need to organise shelter and emergency care for them. For children, this means creating child-friendly spaces, providing interim alternative care for children who are alone, and reuniting children with family members.
SOS Children’s Villages in Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania stand in solidarity with those of us in Ukraine and are ready to support families and children crossing the border.
Ukraine has one of the highest rates of children in institutions in Europe. As part of the Ukrainian Child Rights Network, we have worked with the government to develop and implement a national de-institutionalisation strategy to transform the country’s child care system. The goal is to prevent unnecessary separation of children from their parents or, when the child cannot stay with their parents, to provide family-based care instead of institutional care. But the war has abruptly interrupted childcare reform.
Ukraine, one day, will rebuild from this tragedy. Organisations like ours will need to work with millions of traumatised children. We will work to build a society where all children can grow up in families with love, safety, and peace.
This war must be stopped. Stand on the side of children. End the war.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.