Thousands of Ukrainian refugees helped through Unicef Bulgaria’s Blue Dot hubs

In 2023, UNICEF Bulgaria and partners reached more than 80 000 children and caregivers via the Blue Dots protection and support hubs for refugees from Ukraine, Christina de Bruin, UNICEF Representative in Bulgaria, said on February 23.

Nearly 10 000 adults and 7000 children were supported with psycho-social support, more than 14 000 children and 12 556 adults were supported with winterization items and 81 unaccompanied and separated children from Ukraine were identified and supported, De Bruin said in a statement, released on the eve of the second anniversary of Russia’s February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

UNICEF supported the enrollment in the national educational system of 3800 children and supported the continuation of learning of 24 559 refugee children through a network of early learning and educational hubs.

A total of 51 539 Ukrainian children received learning materials, De Bruin said.

The statement said that since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, more than 2 300 000 people fleeing the conflict, have entered Bulgaria. As of mid-February 2024, more than 53 322 Ukrainian refugees remain in Bulgaria.

“The war in Ukraine has shattered childhoods and wreaked havoc on children’s mental health and ability to learn,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “Children have experienced two years of violence, isolation, separation from families, loss of loved ones, displacement and disrupted schooling and healthcare. They need this nightmare to end.”

“The continued shelling leaves little opportunity for Ukraine’s children to recover from the distress and trauma associated with attacks. Every siren and explosion bring further anxiety. Education is a pillar of hope, opportunity and stability in children’s lives, but it continues to be disrupted or out of reach for millions of Ukraine’s children.”

The psychological impacts of war among children are widespread. According to survey data, half of 13- to 15-year-olds have trouble sleeping, and one in five have intrusive thoughts and flashbacks – typical manifestations of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Three-quarters of children and young people aged 14 to 34 recently report needing emotional or psychological support. However, less than a third sought help.

Parents across Ukraine report elevated levels of anxiety, excessive fear, phobias and sadness, and decreased engagement in school, sensitivity to loud noises, and sleep troubles among children. At a time when parental support is needed most, half of parents surveyed report that they are struggling to support their children.

Across the country, 40 per cent of Ukraine’s children cannot access continuous education due to a lack of facilities. In areas nearer to the frontline, half of school-age children are unable to access education. Latest data show that the scale of learning gaps seen in 2022 compared to 2018 is equivalent to two years loss in reading and one year loss in maths.

Since the escalation of the war two years ago, UNICEF expanded its work in Ukraine and is currently present in Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, Dnipro, Poltava, Mykolaiv, and Kharkiv to provide humanitarian assistance and critical support to children and families.

UNICEF’s work in Ukraine is focused on ensuring children have access to health care, immunisation, nutrition support, protection, education, safe water and sanitation, social protection, and mental health and psychosocial support.

In refugee hosting countries, UNICEF works with governments, municipalities and local partners to strengthen national systems that provide refugee children and marginalized children from host communities with quality education, health care and protection services, the statement said.

(Archive photo, taken at the opening of a Blue Dot centre in Varna in July 2022: UNICEF)

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The Sofia Globe staff

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