Briefing To The UN Security Council On The Humanitarian Situation In Ukraine By UNICEF Executive Catherine Russell

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NEW YORK (March 7, 2022) – Excellencies and colleagues,  

I would like to express my appreciation to Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield and Ambassador Ferit Hoxha for convening today’s meeting.  I would also like to thank Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh and the United Arab Emirates for hosting this briefing during your Security Council presidency.  

This is my first time briefing the Security Council as UNICEF Executive Director. I regret that it has been made necessary by the rapidly worsening situation in Ukraine — and the unconscionable impact the conflict is having on Ukraine’s children.

The past eight years of conflict in Ukraine have already inflicted profound and lasting harm to children.  

With the escalation of the conflict, the immediate and very real threat to Ukraine’s 7.5 million children has grown. Homes, schools, orphanages, and hospitals have all come under attack. Civilian infrastructure like water and sanitation facilities have been hit, leaving millions without access to safe water.   

For many, life has moved underground as families seek safety in shelters, subways, or basements, often for hours on end. Women are giving birth in makeshift maternity wards with limited medical supplies.  

Most stores are closed, making it hard for people to buy essential items, including basic necessities for children like diapers and medication.  And even if stores were open, millions of people are too afraid to venture outside for food or water because of continuous shelling and shooting. 

The intensification of the armed conflict is posing severe human costs, which are increasing exponentially by the day.

As of today, OHCHR recorded 1207 civilian casualties in Ukraine. Since February 24, at least 27 children have been killed and 42 children have been wounded. Countless more have been severely traumatized.      

As the fighting has now reached densely populated areas and across the country, we expect child casualties to increase. 

We also expect the displacement crisis to continue growing rapidly.   

As of yesterday, UNHCR was reporting an excess of 1.7 million refugees fleeing to hosting countries. Half of the people on the move are children. UNICEF is working closely with UNHCR to reach them with protection and assistance in receiving countries.   

I have just returned from the Romania-Ukraine border, where thousands of women and children have come to escape the fighting.   I met with mothers and children who had to flee their homes at a moment’s notice. 

They told me how it felt to leave everything you know behind.  To leave husbands, fathers, and elderly loved ones, not knowing when or whether they would see each other again.  

The children talked about being suddenly pulled out of school, losing beloved toys, and the terrifying sound of shelling and gunfire.   So many children have been deeply traumatized.

Excellencies,

UNICEF and our partners are working 24 hours a day to meet rapidly escalating humanitarian needs in Ukraine and in neighboring countries — from trucking in safe water for drinking and hygiene, providing emergency medical services, and providing shelter and protection for those displaced from their homes.

At present, we have some 135 people working for UNICEF in Ukraine, and we are sending more to meet needs in-country.  UNICEF-supported child protection mobile teams are reaching children wherever they can with psychosocial care, mental health support, and protection services.  

The operating environment in Ukraine is extremely complex. Access constraints and rapidly changing front lines make it much more difficult to deliver critical supplies and services. The safety and well-being of our staff on the ground remains a top priority.  

I also want to spotlight our local partners and other local humanitarian actors, who continue to operate under extremely difficult security conditions, especially those working in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, regions that have been hard-hit over the past several weeks.

I am very glad to tell you that on Sunday, UNICEF delivered 40 tons of medical life-saving items for children and mothers to in 22 hospitals from five of the most affected regions.

This equipment included midwifery and obstetrics kits, resuscitation and surgical kits, oxygen concentrators for shelters’ hospitals, and first aid kits for frontline health workers – enough to meet the needs of 20,000 children and their mothers. In coordination with the Ministry of Health, UNICEF is assessing further needs and preparing other shipments.

UNICEF and our partners need flexible resources and safe, uninterrupted access to rapidly scale up our efforts to meet children’s urgent needs, wherever they are– whether still in Ukraine or on the move

In collaboration with UNHCR, we have deployed teams to Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Republic of Slovakia, and built on our ongoing presence in Romania, Moldova, and Belarus to support the urgent needs of children.

We have begun operating ‘Blue Dot’ safe spaces in hosting countries at border crossings where children are first registered. The hubs provide a one-stop safe space for children and their families. They offer a range of services, including places for children to play, psychosocial support, basic legal counselling, recreational kits, and hygiene products.  I visited one of these last week.

Staff at hubs are also able to identify unaccompanied and separated children. Children without parental care are at a heightened risk of violence, abuse, and exploitation. When these children are moved across borders, the risks are multiplied. The risk of trafficking also soars in emergencies.

UNICEF and UNHCR have urged all hosting countries to take measures to identify and register unaccompanied and separated children fleeing Ukraine, after allowing them access to their territory.

Temporary foster care and other community-based care provided through a government system can help protect children who have been displaced without their families. But we want to stress that adoption should never occur during or immediately after emergencies. Every effort should be made to reunify children with their families.

Inside Ukraine, UNICEF is also deeply concerned about the safety and wellbeing of the nearly 100,000 children, half of them with disabilities, who live in institutions and boarding schools.  We have received reports of institutions understandably seeking to move children to safety in neighboring countries and beyond.

Many of these children have living relatives or legal guardians. All of these children have the right to be protected.

While we recognize that humanitarian evacuations may become necessary to save lives, special measures must be taken to contact relatives and obtain consent to move these children to safety — and to reunify them with their families when the threat is passed.

With the spread of the conflict, we should all be extremely concerned about the risks posed to children by landmines and explosive remnants of war. Even prior to the recent escalation, Eastern Ukraine was one of the most mine-contaminated stretches of land in the world. This brutal reality is rapidly extending to other parts of the country.

We will continue doing everything we can for children in Ukraine. We are committed to stay and deliver. But we need your support.

Excellencies,

What is happening to children in Ukraine is a moral outrage. Images of a mother and her two children and a friend lying dead on the street – hit by a mortar as they tried to flee to safety – must shock the conscience of the world.  We must act to protect children from this brutality.

UNICEF calls upon the members of this Council to remind all parties of their legal and moral obligation to protect children and spare them from attack.

We remain extremely concerned about attacks on the civilian infrastructure necessary to help children weather this conflict, including schools, hospitals, water and sanitation facilities, and critical energy infrastructure.

We call on all parties to refrain from fighting near or targeting these protected areas, and from cyber-attacks that can disrupt critical services for children and families.  

We appeal to all parties to avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, including cluster munitions, which pose the gravest risk of harm to children. And we urge all parties to protect civilians from further harm related to contamination from landmines and explosive remnants of war.

UNICEF respectfully asks this Council to send a strong message to all parties of their obligation to ensure the safety of humanitarian personnel and equipment, and to permit and facilitate our work.

This also means ensuring that sanctions and other restrictive measures do not impede humanitarian action.

Finally, we have renewed our call for an immediate suspension of ongoing military actions in Ukraine. We need a ceasefire and adequate guarantees to enable safe and rapid humanitarian access to all people in need across Ukraine.

This will allow critical humanitarian assistance and protection to reach those in need — and to let families in the most affected areas venture out to get food and water, seek medical care, or leave their homes to find safety.

In closing, I would like to emphasize that UNICEF is humanitarian actor abiding by humanitarian principles.  Over the past 8 years UNICEF has been working on both sides of the line of contact in Eastern Ukraine and we are committed to providing humanitarian assistance and protection to all children in need across Ukraine and in neighboring countries. 

But this brutality must come to an end.

Excellencies, colleagues, 

Children in Ukraine need help and protection.

They need supplies and other critical support.

They need access to basic social services like health and education.

They need hope for the future.

But above all children in Ukraine need peace. It is the only sustainable solution.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today.

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About UNICEF

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to pursue a more equitable world for every child. UNICEF has helped save more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization, by providing health care and immunizations, safe water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF USA advances the global mission of UNICEF by rallying the American public to support the world’s most vulnerable children. Together, we are working toward a world that upholds the rights of all children and helps every child thrive. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.

For more information please contact:a

Erica Vogel, UNICEF USA, 212.922.2480, [email protected]

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