We must ensure the voices of children are heard when we discuss Ukraine's recovery
The UK Government, alongside the Government of Ukraine, is currently hosting the Ukraine Recovery Conference in London.
For the next two days, the UK Government, alongside the Government of Ukraine, is hosting the Ukraine Recovery Conference in London. The Conference will focus on attracting private sector investment into the country – which will play an important role in supporting the revival of Ukraine’s economy. But we must not forget that recovery is about so much more than economics and we must never forget the human cost of the war.
Families like three-year-old Olga and five-year-old Sasha, who were playing together in Donetsk region of Ukraine, when they saw what they thought was a whistle on the ground. Sasha picked it up, and it exploded in her hands. Olga’s mother Valentyna ran outside and found the two girls covered in blood. Sasha lost four fingers; Olga barely made it. She has shrapnel in her liver, bladder and parts of her stomach, and will need a colostomy bag for the rest of her life.
I was told Olga and Sasha’s story in a recent meeting with Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Country Director in Ukraine, who gave a harrowing insight into the disproportionate way children are being impacted by this deadly war.
Mines and unexploded bombs pose a lethal risk to over 2 million children in Ukraine. Over 500 children have been confirmed killed since February 2022 (with the actual numbers feared to be much higher), there is evidence to suggest sexual violence has been committed against children as young as four, and thousands of Ukrainian children have been taken across the border into Russia. The fighting has also forced thousands of schools to close across the country, with around 3,000 education facilities either damaged or completely destroyed last year.
The UK has been a global leader in supporting Ukraine – diplomatically, economically, militarily and in welcoming refugees into our homes and communities. I am proud that, as Ukrainians fight to defend not only their country but a free and democratic way of life, Britain is standing with them. The Ukraine Recovery Conference is a good example of the role the UK can play in convening the international community behind Ukraine, and over a year on from the invasion it’s critical to maintain momentum. It should be a source of pride that it is Britain leading this charge.
We have to make the most of this chance for action, though. It is a missed opportunity that the conference is not being used to urge action for human recovery too, given the horrors of the humanitarian situation in the country. Education, child protection, mental health, the needs of vulnerable groups such as children in care and those with disabilities – all of these issues should be on the agenda. Imagine a Conference that has been shaped by the voices of Ukraine’s children, and committed to build a country that can help them to fulfil their dreams.
Olga, injured in the blast while she played with her friend, has big hopes for her future - she says she wants to be a dancer, a cook, a police officer and a doctor. She might not be able to do them all at the same time, but we must ensure that none of these dreams are out of reach for her generation. It would be a legacy of which Britain could be proud.
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