UN humanitarians on Friday described as “unprecedented,” the continuing outflow of children and families fleeing the “relentless shelling” of Russian military action in Ukraine – as they await assurances for the safe passage of relief teams to provide urgently needed assistance.
“500,000 children have been forced to flee their homes in just seven days… unprecedented in scale and speed,” James Elder, spokesperson for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said via video link from Lviv in western Ukraine.
“As fighting continues of course last night, thousands of children spent another night in freezing and terrifying – terrified – in bunkers under siege. Children must, must, have peace.”
Demand outstrips supply
Amid “staggering” numbers of displaced people, UNICEF underscored that humanitarian needs across the country were “multiplying by the hour.”
Hundreds of thousands are without safe drinking water because of damage to system infrastructure and many have been cut off from access to other essential services like healthcare, Mr. Elder said, noting that “tens of thousands of children” remain in child-care institutions, and many are disabled.
“UNICEF’s first convoy of trucks will arrive here later…[with] emergency supplies, water, sanitation kits, midwifery kits,” he continued. “Mothers are having babies in bunkers,”.
“We’ve sent oxygen cylinders to Kiev and have safe tents on borders. But as long as conflict continues, demand will continue to outstrip supply.”
Families visibly shaken
The psychological toll of the barrage of shelling and sirens on countless families fleeing the country is apparent among those arriving at its borders.
Speaking from the Moldovan border with Ukraine, Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams, the communication’s head of UN Refugee Agency, said that the level of fear and trauma was “extremely clear.”
Amidst a line of cars “as far as the eye could see,” Ms. Ghedini-Williams spoke to a mother with her three children in the car and their two dogs.
“They were all very shaken up. The youngest child… a young girl of I would guess around eight or nine, was visibly shaken.”
Life-saving medical supplies
Meanwhile from the Poland-Ukraine border, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Emergency Medical Team Network Leader, Flavio Salio, said that “the first cargo shipment of trauma supplies, surgical supplies and emergency health supplies and medicines,” arrived yesterday in Warsaw and was now moving towards the border before crossing into Ukraine.
Pending safe access, WHO is also considering medically evacuating civilians.
“I think at this stage safe access will be very critical, both in terms of assets as well as teams that are very willing to provide the needed medical support for the medical care,” he said.
© UNICEF/Oleksandr Brynza
Babies are cared for in a makeshift perinatal centre located in the basement of a medical complex in Saltivka, a residential district in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
Negotiating safe passage
Deeper within the country, the UN humanitarian coordinating office, OCHA, said that many cities have faced relentless shelling.
OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke said that the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, had welcomed reports that the two sides had “agreed to facilitate safe passage” for humanitarians.
However, he noted, there has yet to be any official confirmation from the sides in writing.
Fleeing amidst racism
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), of the more than 1.2 million people who had fled Ukraine, more than half went to Poland, where the wait time along the Ukrainian-Polish border ranged from 24 to 36 hours.
IOM spokesperson Paul Dillon raised his concern that over 78,000 third-country nationals from 138 countries have been reportedly experiencing xenophobia and racism during their journey.
“Such reports needed to be addressed,” he said.
Protect innocent children
With at least 19 children killed and 31 injured during the military action in Ukraine, the UN Child Rights Committee demanded that Russia immediately cease its aggression and military actions.
“Children in Ukraine are currently subject to extreme suffering and trauma. They are being killed and injured…separated from their families…and their daily lives and routines have been utterly shattered,” the UN Human Rights Office said in statement, adding that as a consequence of the military attack, “children are exposed to extreme violence and experience unbearable levels of fear and anxiety”.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child demanded that Russia uphold its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child to protect children from physical and psychological violence “to the utmost degree and as the highest priority.”
© UNICEF/Ioana Moldovan
A nine-year-old girl and her three-year-old brother arrive at a temporary shelter in Romania after fleeing the conflict in Ukraine with their mother.