Russian strikes on critical infrastructure in Ukraine have put the physical and mental health of “almost every child” in the country “at desperate risk,” UNICEF warned Wednesday.
As the war approaches the ten-month mark, temperatures continue to drop and residents are left without sustained access to electricity, heating and water, the almost seven million children in Ukraine face not only extreme cold, but are also unable to get access to education and healthcare, UNICEF said in a statement.
“Millions of children are facing a bleak winter huddled in the cold and the dark, with little idea of how or when respite may arrive,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.
“Beyond the immediate threats the freezing conditions bring, children are also deprived of the ability to learn or stay connected with friends and family, putting both their physical and their mental health at desperate risk.”
Damaged health facilities may be unable to provide critical services, while malfunctioning water systems “raise the already extremely high risks of pneumonia, seasonal influenza, waterborne diseases and Covid-19,” UNICEF said.
Furthermore, a “bleak winter will also likely worsen the psychosocial situation for children, who are already facing a looming mental health crisis,” UNICEF said, with an estimated 1.5 million children at risk of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders and other mental conditions.
“The harsh winter, combined with a loss of income and the energy and socioeconomic crisis triggered by the war are devastating to the well-being of children and families,” UNICEF said. It added that the situation is “especially acute” for the 6.5 million people, including 1.2 million children, who are currently displaced within Ukraine.
Moscow has unleashed a wave of strikes in recent months that has destroyed about 40% of Ukraine’s power production, “further exposing families to harsh winter conditions, impacting livelihoods, and increasing the likelihood of additional large population movements,” UNICEF said.
“The rules of war are clear — children and the essential civilian infrastructure they rely on to survive must be protected,” said Russell.