In Ukraine, nearly 7 million children are at risk following attacks on energy infrastructure causing widespread power cuts and interruptions in heating and water. UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell urges protection of children and civilian infrastructure.

New York/kyiv/Paris, December 14, 2022 – In Ukraine, continued attacks on critical energy infrastructure have deprived almost all of the country’s children – nearly seven million – of sustainable access to electricity, heating and water; putting them at increased risk as temperatures continue to drop and winter intensifies, UNICEF warned today.

Access to education and health threatened

Without electricity, children not only face extreme cold – winter temperatures can dip below -20°C – but they also find themselves unable to continue their online learning, which for many of them is the only possibility of access to education; a large number of schools having been damaged or destroyed. In addition, health facilities sometimes find themselves unable to provide essential services, and dysfunctional water supply systems increase the already extremely high risks of pneumonia, seasonal influenza, waterborne diseases and of COVID-19.

«Millions of children face a bleak winter, huddled in the cold and darkness, not knowing how or when respite will come,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “Beyond the immediate threat posed by cold conditions, children are also deprived of the opportunity to learn or stay connected with friends and family, putting both their physical and mental health at great risk. »

Harsh winter conditions

The escalation of attacks in October destroyed 40% of Ukraine’s electricity generation, further exposing families to harsh winter conditions, impacting livelihoods and increasing the likelihood of further large population movements. Despite ongoing repairs, the Ukrainian energy system was only able to cover 70% of demand during a peak in consumption recorded on November 28, according to OCHA.

The harshness of winter, combined with the loss of income and the energy and socio-economic crisis triggered by the war, has devastating effects on the well-being of children and families. Families’ incomes and access to essential services have been wiped out by the destruction of infrastructure in the 10 months since the war escalated. The situation is particularly dire for the 6.5 million people, including 1.2 million children, who are currently displaced in Ukraine.

As areas previously affected by heavy fighting become accessible, UNICEF has started distributing winter clothing kits, water heaters and generators to the frontline and newly accessible areas of Kharkiv oblasts , Kherson and Donetsk. To date, overwintering supplies worth over $20 million have been purchased.

Children's mental health at risk

A gloomy winter also risks worsening the psychosocial situation of children, who are already facing a looming mental health crisis. It is estimated that 1.5 million of them are at risk of suffering from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and other mental disorders. The impact of the conflict on children’s access to education is just the latest disruption following a hasty end to the previous school year and disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. UNICEF has winterized more than 55 of its SPILNO Child Spots – safe and warm spaces offering integrated services to children, young people and their caregivers.

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