The UN children’s agency is calling for all parties to the deadly conflict in eastern Ukraine to commit to a cease-fire and end more than six years of fighting, as an increase in shelling has resulted in numerous child casualties and damaged schools since the beginning of the year.
In a press release on May 21, UNICEF said the surge in attacks combined with restrictions of movement imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus is "making life even more unbearable" for the approximately 430,000 children caught up in the fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists.
"It is unconscionable that children and families in eastern Ukraine are not only having to cope with the strict lockdown measures all families are struggling with across Europe, but also the constant threat that their homes could come under attack," said Afshan Khan, UNICEF’s regional director for Europe and Central Asia.
Children and families in eastern Ukraine, where the conflict has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014, "urgently need peace," she added.
There have been 10 conflict-related child casualties since the beginning of this year -- double the number of child casualties compared to the same time period last year, UNICEF said.
During the first week of May, six children were wounded at home after their villages came under shelling. Three young girls, two of them sisters, aged 7 and 10, and the other a friend, also aged 7, were severely injured in one incident.
The UN agency also mentioned nine attacks on schools, including five in April. In one of them, a 17-year-old girl was wounded by shrapnel while in her schoolyard.
The attacks occurred despite the fact that Ukraine in November became the 100th country to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, an intergovernmental political document which contains concrete commitments to better protect students, teachers, schools, and universities from the effects of war.
Families across Ukraine, including those living in the conflict-affected Donetsk and Luhansk regions, have been in lockdown since the end of March due to the coronavirus pandemic. As of May 21, the country has reported more than 19,700 cases of COVID-19 confirmed, including over 570 deaths.
The lockdown leaves "many children living near the 'contact line' -- where fighting is most severe -- with no real way to continue their education, due to limited Internet connectivity and access to necessary equipment,” according to UNICEF.
"The emotional trauma caused by movement restrictions, school closures, and isolation will only intensify the already high levels of stress that vulnerable children who live in the frontline communities have to contend with," the UN body said.
The statement also noted that UNICEF is appealing for $23 million for a COVID-19 response in Ukraine.
That’s in addition to a humanitarian appeal of $9,8 million, which remains underfunded by 73 percent, to support families with children in the conflict-affected regions.