On 24 February, the lives of Ukrainian children changed forever. In the weeks and months following the Russian invasion, millions of children have been forced to leave their homes. According to IOM’s latest survey, 38 per cent of internally displaced families have at least one child between the ages of 5 and 17 living with them, while 4 per cent of displaced families have children younger than one year.
Almost 6 million school and pre-school-aged children were directly affected by the war, as thousands of educational institutions remain inaccessible: some damaged or destroyed, others serving as shelters for displaced people or distribution points for humanitarian aid.
“Little Sunshine”, or Sonechko in Ukrainian, is one of the largest inclusive orphanages for children with special needs below the age of seven. Based in Zaporizhzhia city, this facility was a haven for children from the most affected areas, including those evacuated from the city of Mariupol that endured a vicious siege. The orphanage was one of a kind in the entire region and provided social and psychological rehabilitation, enabling children to receive pre-school education and prepare to integrate into other educational institutions.
In mid-March, children and staff at “Sonechko” were told to pack up. Living close to the largest European nuclear power plant, taken over by Russian military, was not safe anymore.
175 kids and support staff were urgently relocated by regional administration to a safer area in western Ukraine. The assigned facility was designed to accommodate teenagers but not younger children. Also, relocation and adaptation to the unusual environment took toll on the children. It took them a while to get used to the new circumstances.
“When we had just arrived, everything was unusual for us, it was not ours and looked alien. That caused a lot of stress for all staff and children. It was planned that we would spend a month here, but stayed longer due to the worsening situation in our region”, explains one of the staff members.
The institution that hosted the displaced children from “Sonechko” needed urgent humanitarian support. IOM provided the facility with mattresses, pillows, bed linen, towels, and blankets. Furthermore, IOM mobile teams conducted small repairs to improve the, living conditions for new residents and make their temporary home safer and more comfortable.
Working closely with the host community, the orphanage’s administration succeeded in supporting 12 pupils from “Sonechko” to enter first grade at school despite the relocation other challenges. They are committed to ensuring that children have continued access to education.
“We do not know when the war will end and whether these children would have a place to come back to. But we are doing everything we can to provide support and dedicate our human resources to help children”, a representative of the hosting community said.
On 9 September, the world marks International Day to Protect Education from Attack to raise awareness of the plight of millions of children living in countries affected by conflict. On this day and every day, IOM Ukraine continues supporting educational facilities to ensure a safe return to school. IOM also provides mental health and psychosocial support assistance to help children cope with the impact of the war to , mitigate the risks of physical and emotional harm.