As Winter Falls

Destroyed infrastructure and freezing weather leave Ukraine’s children facing an uncertain future.

A boy looks out of the window of a bus in Ukraine.

War is inflicting staggering harm on Ukraine’s children and their families.

Many survivors of the violence are enduring unthinkable injuries and psychological trauma.

Some have lost their sight, their hearing, or limbs.

A boy sits on a bed and shows his leg, which was injured during bombing in Ukraine.

But even for girls and boys who have escaped the physical harm of shelling, the losses are deep and lasting:

Loss of education.

Of critical care.

Of a place to grow up happy and healthy.

Now, as the biting winds and sub-zero temperatures of winter take hold, Ukraine’s children confront new threats to their well-being. They are in desperate need of protection and shelter.

In the northern city of Chernihiv, Olena wonders how she and her son Misha will cope when temperatures plunge.

“I’m so upset because my house and school are destroyed,” Misha, 9, says. Many of the buildings in their neighborhood have been.

Olena has been clearing away the debris of her damaged home, attempting to make it habitable before the cold arrives.

“We’re trying to fix it as much as possible, but winter is coming,” she says. “Gas is expensive, and we need the heating.”

Olena positions a piece of plastic over one of the gaping holes left by bombardments. Her fears of gas shortages and power outages are shared by countless Ukrainian families.

Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses have lost power as explosive weapons have taken a devastating toll on the country’s infrastructure.

Olena, left, and Misha clear rubble from the remains of their badly damaged house.
Olena, left, holds her son's hand as they cross the street.

As infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, many homes lack water and electricity, and will be dangerously damp and cold as winter sets in.

Veronika’s house was reduced to a pile of rubble during shelling early in the war.

“I really miss my home, my house,” Veronika, 9, says. “I miss school. I want to go there, but we can’t because there are always air-raid sirens.”

For now, the family is living in temporary accommodation. They demolished what was left of their home so they could start to rebuild.

“We have some bricks left. We have some wood left,” Veronika’s mother, Tetiana, says. “[But] it’s not enough to rebuild the house.”

As winter nears, Tetiana and her family persist.

“The children and I are already tired, but we handle it,” she says.

Veronika sits on a pile of concrete blocks near the family's destroyed home.

The conflict will also have long-term effects even on the lives of children whose homes remain habitable, still standing. Explosive weapons have had a devastating impact on vital infrastructure keeping young lives secure.

Badly damaged or destroyed schools mean children risk missing out on their education, but also the welcome routine of classes and the chance to spend time with their friends. Schools also give children access to warm meals and heated spaces, essential as wintry weather sets in.

Fourteen-year-old Daria feels fortunate to have a home, but her school has been devastated. Even before the war, Daria says, it was difficult to attend classes because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, it’s impossible.

“Just when there was a chance to start regularly studying at school and to acquire everyday knowledge, the war started and our school was destroyed,” she says.

Daria is taking classes remotely, but she misses seeing her teachers and friends in person.

Daria stands with her back to the camera looking at the remains of her school.
A child holds a pen while reading a textbook in a classroom.
A child sits at a desk in the remains of a classroom that has been badly damaged during the war.
A collage of photos of children taken before the war is displayed on a wall.
A shattered window is pictured from the inside of a classroom.
Misha sits in a dark room looking out of a window in a school.
Item 1 of 6
Daria stands with her back to the camera looking at the remains of her school.
A child holds a pen while reading a textbook in a classroom.
A child sits at a desk in the remains of a classroom that has been badly damaged during the war.
A collage of photos of children taken before the war is displayed on a wall.
A shattered window is pictured from the inside of a classroom.
Misha sits in a dark room looking out of a window in a school.

Twelve-year-old Mykhailo bears the physical scars of war.

In July, a rocket landed in the yard of his family home, killing Mykhailo’s father and injuring him and his little brother.

They were evacuated by train to Dnipro Hospital and then transferred to Saint Nicholas Hospital in Lviv, western Ukraine.

“I’ve been here for about three months,” he says. “I’m in the ward all day long. There are no friends here.”

Mykhailo lays on a bed in a hospital.
The injuries to Mykhailo's legs are pictured as he lays on the bed in a hospital.

Supporting children with critical medical services – from routine vaccinations to emergency care – has become ever more challenging as explosive weapons edge closer to, and often into, populated areas. Shelling has shattered health facilities, leaving many severely compromised and others destroyed.

When the main hospital in Chernihiv was hit in March, its medical team was forced to relocate to an old wooden building. The rooms there are small, with inadequate access to water, but the hospital still admits dozens of patients a day.

A member of staff stands outside the Chernihiv hospital, which was badly damaged in the war.
Patients wait in a narrow corridor to be treated.
Mykhailo sits next to his brother on a bed at the hospital.
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A member of staff stands outside the Chernihiv hospital, which was badly damaged in the war.
Patients wait in a narrow corridor to be treated.
Mykhailo sits next to his brother on a bed at the hospital.

“We worry about how we’ll manage in the winter,” says Oksana, head of the hospital, adding that the building isn’t suitable for wintry conditions. And even though staff are doing everything they can to provide patients with quality care, “the conditions for giving this type of assistance aren’t very good.”

As much as anything, the children and families of Ukraine need peace. The sooner Ukraine’s children regain a sense of routine and safety, the sooner they’ll recover from the nightmares they’ve experienced.

Horror and hopes: Ukraine’s children in their own words

Alona, 14

“I can’t see my future because I don’t know if I’ll wake up tomorrow. I hope the war will stop and my father will return home.”

Viktoria, 14

“The war is about destroyed buildings, it’s about children without parents, it’s about grief.”

Nazar, 14

“My school was destroyed by the bombing. The classroom where I spent almost nine years was turned into ruins.”

As winter approaches, millions of Ukrainians remain displaced from their homes. Children have been forced to leave loved ones and treasured belongings. They face an unthinkable future.

Every day, this war compounds the devastating impact on children – in Ukraine, and across the world.

No matter where they are used, explosive weapons endanger a child’s most fundamental rights. UNICEF calls on governments around the world to avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, to sign and implement the EWIPA political declaration, and to speak out to protect children worldwide from conflict. We also support governments and humanitarian actors to reduce the risks that landmines and explosive remnants of war present to children.

As Ukraine’s families try to piece back together their shattered lives, UNICEF is working with partners to support them during the winter. In addition to providing much-needed winter items, such as clothing, boots and blankets, UNICEF is extending child-care services and life-saving cash transfers to particularly vulnerable families, while supporting schools and hospitals with generators and heating.Find out more about the impact of explosive weapons in populated areas here, and learn more about UNICEF’s work for Ukraine’s families here.

About UNICEF

UNICEF works in the world’s toughest places to reach the most disadvantaged children and adolescents – and to protect the rights of every child, everywhere. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we do whatever it takes to help children survive, thrive and fulfill their potential, from early childhood through adolescence. 

Credits

Photography: Diego Ibarra Sánchez

Videography: Diego Ibarra Sánchez

 Writer: Ethel Bonet

 Video coordinators: Oleksandra Burynska, Juan Haro

 Content coordinators: Juan Haro, Oleksandra Burynska

  Editor and producer: Jason Miks

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