The West Is Neglecting Ukraine’s Future

A child walks on the debris left by an explosion following a missile strike on a civilian neighborhood in Bakhmut, Ukraine

A child walks on the debris left by an explosion following a missile strike on a civilian neighborhood in Bakhmut, Ukraine

Vladimir Putin’s first public appearance after the aborted weekend mutiny was a video address to an International Youth Industrial Forum in Tula. He failed to mention Wagner’s actions, instead proclaiming the role of young people in building a strong Russian industry in the future.

His speech was almost certainly pre-recorded before the conference. But two thoughts struck me about his timing.

First, against the background of the mutiny, he appeared weak. I called teenagers I know in Lviv to ask them their reaction to the rebellion. They told me that the “crazy” events had only hardened their support for the Ukrainian troops. Nastya, 16, said young people were encouraged to raise funds to ensure “every Ukrainian soldier returns home alive”.

Second, it hurt me: here is Putin, a man with an ICC warrant for the unlawful deportation of children, describing young lives as the foundation of a nation’s growth, when the week Last at the Ukraine Recovery Conference 2023 (URC2023) co-hosted by the UK government, children and young people were barely mentioned.

While much has been made of the 19,499 children President Putin is accused of deporting to Russia, the general public ignores how broken childhood is in Ukraine.

Unicef ​​estimates that 82% of Ukrainian children currently live in poverty. More than half of the 7.5 million children have been displaced 2 million in other countries. Separated from family and friends, many live on alms in temporary accommodation.

Some 1.5 million children are at risk of mental health problems with long-term implications. More than 1,500 under 18s were killed or injured.

In education, less than a third of schools offer in-person learning. About 3 million children have been in full-time or part-time online classes for more than a year. They study on a relative’s cell phone, in bomb shelters or in secret in Russian-occupied territories.

Their fate is largely silent and the country’s recovery will fail if they are ignored. Of course, Rishi Sunak’s call at the conference to support the Ukrainian economy with rapid investments and innovations should indirectly benefit children. But the solutions must be specific to the child. The only way for policy makers to truly understand what childhood recovery should look like is to observe and ask the children themselves and those who advocate for them.

Fortunately, a child’s voice was at least present at a side event at Chatham House last week, when Save the Children screened an animation recounting ten-year-old Margarita’s memories of Mariupol.

His story is told in simple, childlike language without dramatic description, which somehow makes the story more unsettling. Combined with the thoughtful graphics of Ukrainian illustrator Anna Ivanenko and the direction of BAFTA award winner Jonathan Hodgson, the film evokes the full sensory experience of Margarita. We experience the traumatic events from a child’s perspective – sight and sound impressions on memory that Margarita cannot rationalize.

Tanks and cars are on fire by the side of the road as Margarita’s family flees. Columns of smoke on the horizon. The condensation on a soldier’s breath makes us shiver at how cold it was the night the family had to sleep in their car. Bombs sound in the distance, air raid sirens howl, siblings sob. Like Margarita, we don’t have time to dwell on when she was nearly killed.

“I took the dishes to the kitchen and my sister said, ‘No, stop!’ And at that moment a shell hit our house. I don’t know what would have happened to me if I had been there.

Margarita’s family finds safety in Dnipro, but her three-year-old brother, Misha, suffers for months. He can’t sleep. He is shaking and afraid of the dark.

The story is personal, but its perspective universal. Millions of Ukrainian children have such terrifying testimonies and this is what the URC2023 delegates should have had in mind.

Just to scratch the surface, recovery requires investments in children’s health care, especially child-specific mental health. Ukraine needs to rebuild more than 3,060 bombed-out schools, get its New Ukrainian School reform program back on track, and modernize kindergartens.

About 105,000 children lived in 700 state-run “orphanages” before the large-scale invasion, although more than 90% had a living parent. The government must honor a promise made in April to replace the system with family care.

Children can also be part of the recovery design. Children’s participation in post-conflict reconstruction has helped promote peace in countries like Sierra Leone, Guatemala and South Africa. an anthology, seen, but not Agreed: Put children and youth on the security governance agenda, argues that those in positions of authority should “both recognize and respond to children’s concerns”. In this way, they realize “their full potential as active agents in society”.

If Ukraine is to “build back better” as the URC2023 slogan claimed, the goal of raising healthy, educated children who have a seat at the decision-making table must be at the heart of its stock.

Gabriella Jóźwiak is an award-winning freelance journalist who works on issues and policies affecting children and young people.

You can listen to his interview on the Telegraph’s daily podcast ‘Ukraine: The Latest’ here. With over 30 million downloads, it’s your go-to source for all the latest analysis, live reactions and reports from correspondents in the field.

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