Nearly 1,000 boys and girls have been killed or injured in the war in Ukraine, the head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported on Monday, underscoring the urgent need for peace. 

“Once again, as in all wars, the reckless decisions of adults are putting children at extreme risk. There are no armed operations of this kind that do not result in children being harmed,” UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said in a statement

An eleven-year-old girl who lost both legs in the missile attack at Kramatorsk railway station recovers at Lviv hospital in Ukraine. Courtesy of Lviv Territorial Medical Union Hospital

Likely underestimate 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine began nearly six months ago, and UNICEF has verified that at least 972 children have been killed or injured by the violence. 

This represents an average of more than five a day, but Ms. Russell added that “we believe the true number to be much higher.” 

She said most child casualties resulted from the use of explosive weapons, which “do not discriminate between civilian and combatant”, especially in populated areas, as has been the case in cities such as Mariupol, Luhansk, Kremenchuk, Vinnytsia, and elsewhere. 

Meanwhile, almost every child in Ukraine has been exposed to deeply distressing events.  Those fleeing violence are at significant risk of family separation, abuse, sexual exploitation, further attacks, and trafficking. 

Education under attack 

Ms. Russell said the start of the school year, in just over a week, serves as a stark reminder of how much children in Ukraine have lost. 

The escalating hostilities have devastated the education system.  UNICEF estimates that 1 in 10 schools have been damaged or destroyed. 

Schools have been targeted, or used by parties to the fighting, which means families do not feel safe sending their children back to the classroom. 

Ceasefire now 

“All children need to be in school and learning, including children caught up in emergencies. Children in Ukraine and those displaced by this war are no exception,” said Ms. Russell. 

UNICEF continues to call for an immediate ceasefire. Children also must be protected from harm, which includes ending the “brutal use” of explosive weapons in populated areas, as well as attacks on civilian facilities and infrastructure. 

“Ukraine’s children urgently need safety, stability, access to safe learning, child protection services, and psychosocial support,” said Ms. Russell. “But more than anything, Ukraine’s children need peace.”