UNICEF: There are 7,500,000 Ukrainian children who need our help - Lucinda Rivers

Of all the emails I received this week, there is one to which I keep returning.

It is a summary of the harrowing words spoken by my UNICEF colleague James Elder, who was speaking to the media from the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

He told those listening that in every minute of this conflict, 55 children have fled Ukraine, some of them alone. 75,000 children have become refugees every day. Scores of children have been killed.

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James had spent two weeks in Lviv, in Western Ukraine, talking to mothers, fathers and children fleeing for their lives.

Ukrainian civilians are seen at one the bunkers in the city of Kyiv. Picture: Narciso Contreras/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

He also spent time with some of the frontline workers trying to help them, such as the medical professionals having to prioritise treatment by using stickers based on the seriousness of their wounds.

The global attention given to the depressing events in Ukraine is understandable, but many children – and their parents and grandparents – have lived for eight years amid armed conflict and in fear of their lives every day.

The number of children at risk is now 7,500,000, a number obviously greater than the entire population of Scotland.

The most urgent needs are emergency medical supplies, hygiene kits, safe water, shelter and psychological support. The number of children without access to education is over 1 million and rising.

Refugees struggle to board a train at Lviv's main station, Ukraine, on March 9, 2022 Picture: Gustavo Basso/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The escalating conflict across Ukraine is leading to more casualties and the destruction of vital infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, bridges and water sources, is leaving children and their families increasingly vulnerable.

I am struck by how many of us here in the relative comfort of Scotland feel helpless – watching harrowing pictures of families torn apart, buildings and communities destroyed and reading stories of children now alone in the world, or with one parent – not knowing where the other is or if they will ever see them again.

However, there is a way to get support direct to those who need it the most. Like I knew it would, Scotland has rallied in support of Ukrainians and our fundraising here has attracted £1.4m in the last few weeks, with £1m of that coming from the Scottish Government.

The men's Scotland International football team will play against Poland at Hampden Park this coming Thursday (24 March).

Lucinda Rivers, head of UNICEF in Scotland

For every ticket sold, UNICEF’s humanitarian fundraising effort will receive £10, and we are working closely with the Scottish Football Association to encourage more people to the game and to make the most of an important act of generosity from a game that provides so much joy to millions of people around the world and which can unite people like few other sports.

Steve Clarke, the Scotland National Team head coach, rightly highlights “the power of football can have a positive impact even during such desperate situations as the one faced in Ukraine at present”.

How good would it be to fill Scotland’s famous national stadium, not just to give support to Steve Clarke and his players on the pitch, but to send vital support direct to Ukraine and to those who urgently need our help?

This generosity is humbling and so too are the little stories I hear every day, from the children in Scotland donating a pound to their school campaign or the big businesses here providing tens of thousands of pounds. But still we need more.

Four children share a blanket to get warm at the Lviv railway station as people board evacuation trains to Poland, Lviv, western Ukraine. Photo: Ukrinform/Shutterstock

Across Ukraine and neighbouring countries, UNICEF teams are on the ground, providing access to life-saving services. With more support, we can expand our response and meet the urgent needs of children caught in this fast-evolving crisis.

We have called and will continue to call for an immediate ceasefire. We remind all parties of their international obligations to protect children from harm and to ensure that the humanitarian effort can be safely and quickly made to children who need help.

Our inspiring UNICEF team on the ground in Ukraine is working tirelessly to keep children safe and we will stay there for as long as necessary, helping provide children and families with access to clean water and nutritious food, important child protection services and doing what we can to strengthen local healthcare facilities.

Outside Ukraine, where so many of its children and families find themselves, the risk of family separation, violence, sexual exploitation and trafficking is real and growing.

These people are in desperate need of safety, stability and protection, especially those who are unaccompanied or have been separated from their families.

The safest way out of this catastrophe is an end to this conflict and for it to end now. Until then, attacks in civilian areas on civilian infrastructure must stop. They must stop because they’re claiming lives, forcing people to forgo essential healthcare and causing children to miss school.

I take you back to that email. Every minute, 55 children have fled their country. A Ukrainian child has become a refugee almost every second since the start of this conflict.

Many of those children are now alone in a world they have barely started to understand and who should be playing and learning and being loved and protected.

For us, it is unimaginable, but we are digging deep, and I have never felt more proud of Scotland and hope we can provide more support in the coming weeks and months. There are 7,500,000 children who need our compassion and our help.

To donate, visit unicef.uk/scopol

Lucinda Rivers is head of UNICEF in Scotland

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