Live Updates: Russia’s war in Ukraine

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A destroyed school in northeast Kharkiv, Ukraine, on April 22.
A destroyed school in northeast Kharkiv, Ukraine, on April 22. (Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Hundreds of schools across Ukraine are reported to have been hit by heavy artillery, airstrikes and other explosive weapons in populated areas, “underscoring the dramatic impact the conflict is having on children’s lives and futures,” the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement Tuesday.

“The start of the academic year in Ukraine was one of hope and promise for children following Covid-19 disruptions,” said Murat Sahin, UNICEF Representative to Ukraine. “Instead, hundreds of children have been killed, and the school year ends amid the closure of classrooms due to war and the decimation of educational facilities.”

Among the schools that have been damaged or destroyed by shelling is “School 36 – the only ‘Safe School’ in Mariupol,” UNICEF said, adding two schools have been hit by attacks in the past week alone. 

The “Safe Schools” program was established with Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science in response to attacks on kindergartens and schools in the Donbas region, “which has seen a simmering armed conflict since 2014,” UNICEF said.

UNICEF points out that for children affected by crisis, school provides not only a safe space and “a semblance of normality in the most difficult of times,” but also access to information on the risks of deadly explosive ordnance.

Educational facilities also connect them and their parents to health and psychosocial services, added the agency.

“Ensuring access to education can be the difference between a sense of hope or despair for millions of children,” Sahin said. “This is crucial for their future and that of all Ukraine.”

Children and schools should be protected in line with international humanitarian law, UNICEF said, calling on the warring sides to take measures to avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and the use of educational facilities for military purposes.

“Despite the horror of war, impressive work has gone into making sure children can keep learning,” said Sahin. “Ultimately, the fighting needs to stop so that classrooms can be rebuilt, and schools can be safe and fun places to learn again.”

The war in Ukraine is having “a devastating impact” on the country’s 7.5 million children, UNICEF has said, as “children continue to be killed, wounded and deeply traumatized by the violence all around them.”

The agency has also warned that children fleeing the violence in Ukraine are at heightened risk of human trafficking and exploitation. 

More than 5.4 million refugees had fled Ukraine as of May 1, around half of them children, according to the latest UNICEF data. 

Millions more people have been internally displaced, UNICEF said, adding “such large-scale displacements could have lasting consequences for generations to come.”

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