UNICEF Says War In Eastern Ukraine Takes 'Devastating Toll' On Education

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) says the war between government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine has taken a "devastating toll" on the region’s educational system, forcing more than 200,000 children to learn in "militarized environments."

"Children are learning in schools with bullet holes in the walls and sandbags in windows, bomb shelters in the basements, and shrapnel in school yards," UNICEF Ukraine Representative Giovanna Barberis said in a May 4 statement.

"The children are extremely nervous of shelling, and teachers try to calm them down, but it's hard for them...because they are nervous and stressed," Barberis said.

The UN agency did not directly name a particular side in the war, a conflict that has killed more than 10,300 people since March 2014.

It said that "all sides of the conflict must respect international humanitarian law and ensure that schools are safe places for children to learn."

'Forgotten' Crisis

UNICEF also said schools and kindergartens on both sides of the tense "contact line" are in danger due to the proximity of military sites, including bases, storage facilities, and security check points.

The contact line divides areas controlled by the government and Russia-backed separatists in and around parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, and it is where fighting is the fiercest.

UNICEF said it and its partners have monitored instances in which military and armed groups are based within 500 meters of a kindergarten or school.

It added that it has monitored six former school buildings that have been occupied or used by military forces or armed groups since the start of the current school year.

The European Union and United States back Kyiv in the conflict and have imposed sanctions on Russia for its support of the separatists and for its illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula.

Moscow has denied providing the separatist forces with weapons despite what Kyiv and NATO say is irrefutable evidence proving that it has done so.

In previous reports, UNICEF has said that more than 1 million children are in need of urgent humanitarian aid in eastern Ukraine.

Barberis in 2017 described the war as "a crisis most of the world has forgotten."