UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Orlando Bloom travelled to Ukraine last week to meet children and families affected by the war.
During his 3-day visit to Kyiv, Irpin and Demydiv, Bloom witnessed how the war in Ukraine continues to have a devastating impact on children’s lives, more than one year since the escalation in February 2022. UNICEF estimates that 1.5 million children are at risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions, with long-term implications for their physical and mental health.
“When I first came to Ukraine in 2016, I saw the catastrophic consequences that war has on children and families, and how basic needs such as being at school and psychosocial support are critical for children’s wellbeing,” said Bloom, who visited eastern Ukraine in 2016, and Moldova last year to meet refugee families fleeing Ukraine. “Now, with children across the entire country affected, that support is more vital than ever.”
During the past 13 months, thousands of schools have reportedly been severely damaged or destroyed by bombing and shelling, leaving almost 2.7 million Ukrainian children accessing learning online or through the mixed modality of face-to-face and online. In refugee-hosting countries, two out of three children from Ukraine are currently not enrolled in the host country’s education systems. Recent UNICEF research unveils that children of pre-school age are particularly affected, as they are missing out on the opportunity to develop the critical skills they need to succeed in school. These and other topics related to child rights and child-centered recovery in Ukraine were also discussed during the meeting Bloom had with the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky.
“Some of the children I have met – such as 10-year-old Hanna from Volnovakha, Donetsk region – have had limited access to face-to-face education for more than a year,” said Bloom. “While UNICEF is helping ensure that children are able to learn online, they are still missing out on the crucial experience of interacting with their classmates and teachers. Especially for younger children, these interactions are key for their emotional and cognitive development and cannot be replaced by a computer screen.”
During the trip, Bloom visited Irpin, a town heavily impacted by the early days of the war. Here, he visited a school where, with UNICEF support, the basement was converted into a bomb shelter, to provide a safe space for children to continue learning when air-raid sirens may sound.
Bloom also visited UNICEF’s ‘Spilno Child Spots’ in Irpin and Kyiv, where children – including those displaced by the war – can play and learn. Spilno Spots are also a one-stop-shop for children to receive psychosocial support, medical checks and referrals to specialised services. In 2022, over 500,000 children and their caregivers visited 180 Spilno Spots across Ukraine.
“Amid the chaos and uncertainty of war, supporting children’s education is an essential tool in protecting their long-term mental health and wellbeing,” said Bloom. “This is especially important during their early years, when children develop the learning and emotional skills they need to reach their full potential.”
Over the past year in Ukraine, UNICEF has provided education, health, including mental health and psychosocial support, nutrition, water and sanitation, and protection assistance to children and families affected by the war. In countries hosting refugees from Ukraine, UNICEF has been working with national and local authorities, as well as civil society organizations to deliver emergency assistance and support services to families fleeing the war in Ukraine.
As hostilities continue unabated, and needs continue to increase, UNICEF continues delivering for children inside Ukraine and in neighbouring countries and requires US$1.05 billion to meet the growing needs of 9.4 million people, including 4 million children, who remain deeply impacted by the war in Ukraine.
“Above all, children need an end to this war and sustained peace to regain their childhoods, return to normalcy and begin to heal and recover,” said Bloom.