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By Nisha Labade
24 February 2023

It’s been one year since the war broke out in Ukraine. 

Children faced devastation as they lost loved ones. Many watched their homes destroyed. Families were torn apart as they fled across borders for safety or headed underground for shelter. Childhoods have been lost with schooling disrupted and play non-existent. 

But amidst the darkness, there is hope. 

See below how children, communities and humanitarian workers came together with strength and courage, during the past 365 days, to rebuild lives.  

Watch 365 days of strength, courage and love.

365 days of strength, courage and love

Jumping into action 

Teenage girl, a youth volunteer, is helping people in a train station.
16-year-old Solomia volunteers in Ukraine.
Left: © UNICEF/UN0629331/Mekenzin. Right: © UNICEF/UN0629322/Mekenzin.

UNICEF has been active in Ukraine for over 25 years. When the war escalated, we were able to act quickly and utilise our existing partnerships in the country.  

Thanks to a joint initiative from UNICEF and the Ukrainian Volunteer Service, brave young people like 16-year-old Solomia spent their time, outside of school, volunteering. They offered timely emergency assistance and coordinated critical information at Lviv station to those fleeing west for safety. 

“I can’t believe it’s really happening,” says Solomia. “When I see with my own eyes at the station people coming from other cities and the wounded, I feel strongly committed to act.” 

Learning continues 

A young girl plays with bubbles and learning supplies provided by UNICEF in a Ukrainian underground bunker.
Nine-year-old Viktoriia is able to play and continue learning in an underground bunker in Ukraine.
Left: © UNICEF/UN0634330/Gilbertson VII Photo. Right: © UNICEF/UN064328/Gilbertson VII Photo.

The war has forced hundreds of thousands of people to seek shelter in Soviet-era metro stations, designed to withstand nuclear blasts. Among them was nine-year-old Viktoriia. 
“I can’t keep track of time anymore. We can’t dry our clothes and it gets cold at night, so I need to cuddle up with my mother and grandma and the cats. They make me feel warm inside at least”, she said. 

Despite the harsh living conditions, UNICEF has set up mobile learning systems and built child-friendly spaces in underground shelters to provide learning and psychosocial support. 

"In the daytime, we have classes here. We find ways to have fun here. That’s the best thing about this place – my friends and the activities we can do."


Health care on the move 

A young boy is checked by a doctor in a mobile health clinic in Ukraine.
Eight-year-old Danylo is curiously flipping through a UNICEF information brochure. The pages are full of games that can help him reduce the stress he feels as a result of the war.
Left: © UNICEF/UN0769680/Boyko. Right: © UNICEF/UN0769687/Boyko.

Danylo, eight-years-old, is an internally displaced child living in the Ukraine. UNICEF paediatrician, Natalia, is part of a UNICEF-supported mobile health team that provides door-to-door medical care so children, like Danylo, can be supported without risking their lives. 

"The stress we are all experiencing now negatively affects children’s health,” says Natalia. “The immunity of each child decreases, which can lead to an exacerbation of chronic diseases." 

A Christmas surprise 

Refugee children receive UNICEF backpacks and footballs as gifts from St. Nicholas and excitedly participate in a show from a volunteer Christmas clown.
Refugee children receive UNICEF backpacks and footballs as gifts from St. Nicholas and excitedly participate in a show from a Christmas clown.
Left: © UNICEF/UN0755160/Moskalenko. Right: © UNICEF/UN0755134/Moskalenko.

Children and families on the move celebrated Christmas, organised by Blue Dot staff across the border in Poland late last year. 

Jointly established by UNICEF and UNHCR together with local authorities and partners, ‘Blue Dots’ are safe spaces along border crossings in neighbouring countries that provide children and families with critical information and services, including medical and psychosocial care, essential supplies as well as a safe, welcoming space to rest, play and simply be a child. 

Families who have experienced the horrors of war and who have lost or been separated from loved ones, enjoyed a moment of normalcy and festivity.  

"We wanted to do something special for the kids, help them forget about the traumatic experiences a lot of them went through. Let them just be children, share their Christmas wishes with Santa and feel the magical spirit of this holiday’s season."

Blue Dot coordinator, Poland

Rebuilding little lives 

Little children play with their teachers in an underground preschool in Ukraine.
The underground kindergarten supports little ones to play, learn and rest - even during air raids.
Left: © UNICEF/UN0767952/Vashkiv. Right: © UNICEF/UN0767963/Vashkiv.

Kindergarten children, like these little ones from the Ukrainian city of Slavutych were safe in a new bomb shelter, thanks to a UNICEF-supported rehabilitation program in partnership with the Ukrainian government, working to rebuild schools and get children back to learning where it is deemed safe. 

"We try to hold on and not to show our children that we are worried,” says Oksana. “We hope for the best. While the kindergarten was closed, we guarded it, and then decided to return to work, because children need socialisation.” 

Together we have achieved so much, but it’s not the time to look away. 365 days later, Ukraine's children need us more than ever. 

UNICEF is always there before, during and after an emergency, but we can’t do this alone. 

A young boy looking at the camera
© UNICEF/UN0839488/Filippov

Ukraine Children's Emergency Fund

Ukraine's children have endured violence, trauma, loss, destruction and displacement since the war escalated in February 2022.