The intensification of the Russian offensive in Ukraine is having devastating consequences on women and children, senior UN officials have reported.
Catherine Russell, the newly appointed Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said on Monday that the situation for boys and girls caught up in the conflict grows worse by the minute.
Four-year-old Max and his mother Alona fled conflict in #Ukraine, leaving loved ones behind to seek safety in Romania.
Children and families at borders need protection, no matter where they are from. pic.twitter.com/OFiVX3FAz7
— UNICEF (@UNICEF) February 28, 2022
Young lives cut short
“Children have been killed. Children have been wounded. And children are being profoundly traumatized by the violence all around them,” she said in a statement.
UNICEF has renewed a call on all parties to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure. Hospitals, schools, water and sanitation facilities, as well as orphanages, have come under fire, according to reports.
Explosive weapons in populated areas, along with explosive remnants of war, represent “real and present dangers” for children, said Ms. Russell.
She appealed for suspension of the ongoing military actions, which would facilitate humanitarian access to people who have been cut off after five days of intense airstrikes and ground fighting.
“It would also allow families in the worst affected areas to venture out to get food and water, to seek medical care, or to leave in search of safety,” she added.
Women and girls at risk
The fighting has sparked massive displacement, forcing many Ukrainians to flee their homes, including to neighbouring countries, said Pramila Patten, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
It is also putting women and girls at heightened risk of violence.
Ms. Patten issued a statement on Monday that stressed the importance of upholding human rights and exercising restraint.
“Unless the conflict ceases, thousands of additional families will be forcibly displaced, dramatically escalating the scale of the already dire humanitarian situation, and increasing the risk of sexual violence and exploitation,” she warned.
Include women in decision-making
Her statement came a day after the head of UN Women underscored the agency’s commitment to supporting Ukraine’s people, especially women and girls, “at this time of greatest need.”
Executive Director Sima Bahous further emphasized that women’s full and meaningful participation is also vital to improving peace and security processes.
“The inclusion of women themselves in the decision-making processes and humanitarian response is therefore essential to ensure that their rights are upheld,” she added.
Ms. Bahous acknowledged civil society organizations on the ground in Ukraine, calling them critical partners in the work to amplify the voices of women and girls.