Last week UNICEF announced that more than half of Ukraine’s children have been displaced since Russia began its invasion February 24.
This includes more than 1.8 million children who have crossed into neighboring countries as refugees and 2.5 million who are now internally displaced inside Ukraine.
“The war has caused one of the fastest large-scale displacements of children since World War II,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “This is a grim milestone that could have lasting consequences for generations to come. Children’s safety, wellbeing and access to essential services are all under threat from non-stop horrific violence.”
Due to the sheer scale of this displacement, and since it is mostly women and children who are fleeing Ukraine, authorities in Europe fear a surge in human trafficking. To protect and support the millions of children and families who have fled Ukraine, UNICEF and UNHCR (the UN High Commissioner for Refugees) have partnered with governments and civil society organizations in countries like Poland to create a network of “Blue Dots” — one-stop safe spaces for traveling women and children. These way-stop hubs provide critical information and help to identify—and protect—unaccompanied children. They also provide essential services. Such hubs are being scaled up as the needs increase.
In addition, advocacy organizations are very concerned about the far-reaching effects on children experiencing displacement and witnessing war. Ukrainian children have had their homes shelled. They’ve crowded into subway stations to take shelter from rocket fire or packed into trains headed out of the country. Some have waited for hours in freezing temperatures in lines heading to the border. Most have been forced to say goodbye to fathers and other male relatives, since most Ukrainian men ages 18 to 60 are not permitted to leave the country, as they might be called up to fight.
UNICEF spokesman James Elder said mothers have recounted early signs of trauma in their children — babies who don’t cry, children who no longer sleep or eat. He then emphasized that the best thing countries hosting refugees can do for Ukrainian children is to enroll them in schools. “We know that from around the world … school offers a sense of normalcy, schools are a protective space for children, so it’s super important that these kids can get back into a classroom,” he said.
Schools also provide an important entry point for mental health professionals to provide psychosocial support, said Amanda Brydon, child protection lead for the advocacy organization Save the Children in Ukraine. “It’s [also] critically important not to forget about the children inside Ukraine. They’re a lot more invisible,” Brydon said.
How can we pray for displaced women and children both inside and outside of Ukraine? We can pray for
- access to basic supplies like clean water and adequate food.
- safe corridors for evacuation.
- access to medical care.
- “Blue Dot” hubs to increasingly identify and protect unaccompanied children.
- the Lord to shield vulnerable women and children from human trafficking.
- God’s hand of protection and provision on the displaced “invisible” children inside Ukraine.
- Ukrainian refugee children in host countries to be enrolled in schools to provide them with a sense of normalcy as well as opportunities to receive psychosocial support from the trauma they’ve experienced.
In addition, let’s pray the lyrics of Katy Nichole’s song In Jesus Name over these vulnerable ones:
I speak the name of Jesus over you
In your hurting, in your sorrow
I will ask my God to move
I speak the name cause it’s all that I can do
In desperation, I’ll seek heaven
And pray this for you
I pray for your healing
That circumstances would change
I pray that the fear inside would flee
In Jesus name
I pray that a breakthrough would happen today
I pray miracles over your life in Jesus name,
In Jesus name …