Ukraine: "The children are in a permanent state of trauma."

Yana holds Arina at Moldexpo center. Chisinau, Republic of Moldova

24 February 2024 marks two years since the outbreak of war in Ukraine. How   are the children who live near the front line or who have been forced to flee their homes feeling? And how is humanitarian aid adapting to the ongoing crisis? An assessment by the leading Swiss children's rights organisation Terre des hommes Lausanne, which has provided psychological support to more than 50,000 children since the start of the war in Ukraine.

"Children in Ukraine don't feel safe wherever they are. Whether in the east or the west, they are in a permanent state of trauma and stress," says Olga Dombrovska, deputy head of the Terre des hommes (Tdh) delegation in Ukraine, describing the children's situation.

24 February marks the second year since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The ongoing crisis is taking a heavy toll, especially on children. Not only are they exposed to the physical dangers posed by the ongoing attacks throughout the country, but many of them have lost parents and carers as a result of the war. This puts an additional strain on their mental health. 

Children close to the front lines are particularly affected

The Tdh teams working with families in twelve different regions of Ukraine have noticed that the children’s mental health deteriorates continuously without professional support.  

"The children withdraw and lose interest in everything. They avoid school activities and socialising with friends, which are very important," says Olga Dombrovska. 

The problem is particularly acute in those regions closer to the front line that have been systematically targeted, such as the oblasts of Kharkiv, Mykolaiv and Zaporizhzhia. Families in the east also continue to lack basic necessities such as food, clothing and school supplies. The security situation is a major challenge for the humanitarian community, with ongoing shelling putting staff and project activities at risk. 

Strengthening local capacities 

Tdh provides psychosocial support to children, young people and their parents in Ukraine. Over the last two years, the team has provided psychological counselling to more than 50,000 children and set up over 200 child-friendly spaces. These spaces allow children to play, learn and regain a sense of normality despite the traumatic circumstances. Tdh also provides humanitarian aid in the most affected regions of Ukraine, where it distributes winter parcels containing mattresses, sleeping bags and warm blankets.

Tdh has an extensive network of partnerships with Ukrainian NGOs, the government, educational institutions and authorities. In this context, Tdh trains professionals, for example in the management of child-friendly spaces, to ensure the long-term effectiveness of its activities. By strengthening local institutions and working with local organisations, Tdh can achieve a greater impact with its work and reach more people. 

"For a while, I didn't see anything positive, but thanks to the psychological help, I have hope again that everything will turn out well. I believe that the children will have a good future and so will this country," says Nelli, a mother who fled Kyiv with her children. 

Tdh in Ukraine 
Terre des hommes (Tdh) has supported children, young people and their families in eastern Ukraine since 2015. In June 2022, Tdh launched an emergency aid project and since then has been providing humanitarian aid, child protection services and psychosocial support in twelve regions of the country. Terre des hommes teams support families displaced by the war in Ukraine, but also in Moldova, Romania and Hungary, whether they are trying to establish themselves in their new lives or considering returning home. 


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