The war in Ukraine is devastating the lives of children all over the world. Of course, those in Ukraine itself are the most affected. In addition to the immediate effects of the bombings, in which some children have already died, been injured or lost their parents, they are threatened, for example, by the inhalation of smoke which damages the lungs, and there are also effects on mental health. The risk of depression, anxiety or trauma can be reduced if adults caring for children take care of their mental health and thus provide children with at least a basic sense of security. At the same time, it can help to keep the rules that the children were used to. However, the war is not only endangering children in Ukraine – it will likely also affect those at risk of hunger in Middle Eastern countries that depend on grain imports from Ukraine and Russia. Millions more children are at risk of becoming ill or even starving to death as a result of the conflict.
The war in Ukraine lasted ten days, but it has already changed the lives of people all over the world. Suffering is not avoided even by children. According to UNICEF figures, 17 children were killed and 30 injured in the first week of the war (confirmed cases, actual numbers appear to be much higher). Half a million children have become refugees, millions are trapped in a violent country and many have to hide in shelters, cellars, basements and subway stations. Hundreds of houses were destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of people lack access to clean water due to infrastructure damage, and many lack access to health care. The country lacks essential medical needs and medicines, and must fight to prevent poliomyelitis. In addition, inhaling smoke and ash from bombings and fires, which can damage the nose and lungs, can affect children’s health.
But experts warn that what Ukrainian children are now facing could also have an impact on their mental health. Studies show that children and families living in or fleeing war zones have an increased risk of mental health problems.
“Children are extremely susceptible to insecurity and can suffer not only physical but also mental trauma that can last a long time,” Paul Wise, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford University, told ABC News. “We have seen in the past that the war situation in Ukraine can now increase the risk of depression and anxiety,” said Monica Barret, a clinical psychologist at Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital in Orlando.
But not all children have to experience trauma from what they have seen – they may react completely differently. “Some children may be more upset, it may be harder to calm them down, they will be agitated. Other children will withdraw, they will cry less and need attention. Some may look at them and think: this child is very But sometimes it’s a signal that something is wrong, because these kids keep it to themselves, they internalize most of what’s going on,” says Jack Shonkoff, director of the university’s Children’s Development Center. from Harvard.
Order and adult support are important
This is why it is essential that order is maintained in children’s lives as much as possible and that they feel stable. Adults can then help children protect their mental health by taking care of their own.
“The most important factor that determines how children deal with this and progress after the war experience is the nature of the adults caring for them. When parents and caregivers are very traumatized, they cannot not provide support. The needs of adults thus become critical to the protection of children,” says Shonkoff. planes – passengers should put on an oxygen mask for themselves first, then help others.” That’s not to say you’re saying you’re more important than your child. It’s a way of saying that if you pass out, your child won’t be fine.”
As for young children, according to Shonkoff, they are very attentive to what is happening around them, and if adults are not interested in them, it can affect their development. “If a parent is very traumatized or depressed, they cannot smile back at the child. This signals danger to the brain, even if the child has no idea what is going on. The result can be excessive stress, increased risk of inflammation and blood pressure,” says Jack Shonkoff.
Moreover, children look to adults not only for protection, but also to learn what is happening to them in times of deep uncertainty and how scared they should be. “Children will feel better protected by a strong and cohesive community and family life,” adds Paul Wise.
At the same time, it is essential to ensure that children have an order in the war zone that will help them to develop. Even in the bunkers, you have to play with the children and try to teach them lessons. “Children are no longer in school, they are not in a safe environment. Maintaining order can be very useful and protect them in these difficult times, ”points out Monica Barret. According to her, the same goes for children. children in refugee camps.They should also be with their families and have space to spend their time as normally as possible – learning to play.
Famines threaten in Yemen, Lebanon and Syria
Unfortunately, the war in Ukraine is not only endangering the children there. Save the Children pointed out that because of this, wheat prices are skyrocketing, which could mean sickness or even death of children in Yemen, Lebanon and Syria from hunger. Russia and Ukraine produce a significant share of global wheat stocks – in 2019 they exported nearly a quarter of global stocks. The war will cause prices to rise by up to 50% in some countries.
In Yemen, where 95% of wheat is imported (30% from Russia and Ukraine), wheat and bread account for more than half of the average caloric income of a household. At the same time, food prices in the country have more than doubled in recent years, forcing families to reduce portions or omit certain meals altogether. According to the World Food Programme, more than half of the population faces acute hunger.
“Eight million children are already on the brink of starvation in Yemen. Families are exhausted. They have faced horror after horror during seven years of war. We fear they will not be able to cope with another shock, especially in terms of the main food that sustains their children,” says Rama Hansraj, country director for Save the Children in Yemen.
In Lebanon, up to 80% of imported wheat comes from Russia and Ukraine. At the same time, the country expects record inflation and the number of families without enough food is already increasing. Due to the economic crisis, food prices have quadrupled and a month ago some families had to cut their food intake in half. Ukrainian wheat is vital in such a situation, and losing it will be a blow.
There are also concerns for children in Syria, where national wheat production has collapsed due to nearly 11 years of conflict and economic crisis. In 2021, it has reached about a quarter of what it had in the pre-war years. 12 million people, more than half of the population, do not have enough food, and the war in Ukraine will increase these numbers.
“Save the Children calls for an immediate end to violence in Ukraine as this is the only way to protect children. This will also prevent the deterioration of children and families outside Europe, whose survival depends on exports,” adds Save the Children.