Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

1 million children have fled Ukraine, part of a stunningly swift mass exodus

LVIV (Ukraine) — One million children have fled Ukraine in less than two weeks of war, Mr James Elder, a spokesperson for Unicef, said on Tuesday (March 8), calling it “a dark historical first”.

Children look out from a carriage window as a train prepares to depart from a station in Lviv, western Ukraine, enroute to the town of Uzhhorod near the border with Slovakia, on March 3, 2022.

Children look out from a carriage window as a train prepares to depart from a station in Lviv, western Ukraine, enroute to the town of Uzhhorod near the border with Slovakia, on March 3, 2022.

LVIV (Ukraine) — One million children have fled Ukraine in less than two weeks of war, Mr James Elder, a spokesperson for Unicef, said on Tuesday (March 8), calling it “a dark historical first”.

Since the start of the Russian invasion Feb 24, two million people have fled Ukraine, according to the UN — more than those who left Syria in the first three years of the civil war there.

“We have not seen a refugee crisis of this speed and scale since World War II,” said Mr Elder, “And this is a children crisis.”

About one in 7 Ukrainian children have already left the country. At least 29 have been killed, by bombings or by mortar shells, in the street as they tried to escape, a figure that humanitarian groups say is almost certainly an underestimate. Four thousand babies have been born in Ukraine since the start of the conflict, Unicef said in a statement to The New York Times, “including dozens in makeshift maternity wards and underground shelters”.

“Despite the best efforts of doctors and midwives, they are setting up ICUs or surgeries in basements and bunkers — no way it can be as safe as where a child should be born,” said Mr Elder.

In some areas, families are living without electricity and water and as is always the case in conflict, children in Ukraine are overexposed to the cold, to disease, and to hunger and thirst. Families from Mariupol recounted that some children drank water from water heaters, said Mr Elder.

Ms Catherine Russell, the executive director of Unicef, called the situation of children in Ukraine “a moral outrage,” and said that countless of them were traumatised.

In a bunker near her home in Kharkiv, five-year-old Eva Zozulia learned how to distinguish the sound of Ukrainian and Russian artillery before she and part of her family fled the city. The first only produced loud “booms” but when the Russians struck, the whole building trembled.

“It was scary,” Eva said in a phone call from the train station in the western city of Lviv, where she had spent the previous night, sleeping in a restaurant with her mother and older brother.

Many of the children fleeing are unaccompanied, the UN said. Their parents or family members stayed in Ukraine, or were killed, Mr Elder said, adding that he had met a mother who was travelling with her three children and three children of her sister, with whom she had lost contact.

About 100,000 children, half of them with disabilities, are living in institutions and boarding schools that are at risk, as schools, orphanages, homes and hospitals had all come under attack, the UN said.

Reverend Vyacheslav Grynevych, the executive director of Caritas-Spes, a Ukrainian Latin Catholic charity, said the group took in 200 children with their mothers in a centre in the ski resort of Yablunytsia, in Western Ukraine. Mr Grynevych said in a phone call from Yablunytsia that while many orphans had left Ukraine, his organisation was still trying to coordinate the evacuation of many of them who are still in bomb shelters around the country, sometimes alone.

Children have also shown great resilience, from singing in bomb shelters to undertaking trips alone to join relatives abroad. Mr Vardkes Arzumanyan, a restaurant owner who has been distributing meals at the Lviv train station, said he saw a child tearing the piece of the cardboard he was sitting on, to offer part of it to a stranger.

Most of the Ukrainian refugees in other countries are women and children, because men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave.

But to some mothers, their 18-year-old sons are still children.

Eva Zozulia’s brother Kyryll, a high school student, turned 18 on March 1, a day before the family fled Kharkiv.

“He is not prepared,” said Ms Irene Zozulia, Eva and Kyryll’s mother. “The only way in which he could help is go in front of a Russian soldier and say ‘kill me’.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Related topics

Ukraine Russia invasion children refugees

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.