I wrote an article for Global Fund for Children in 2014, after Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine. During that war, most of the people served by a GFC partner organization that works with children with disabilities had to flee Luhansk, in southeastern Ukraine, in wheelchairs. Thousands of Ukrainian children lost their homes and fled to other parts of Ukraine, or to other countries. That invasion, however, was limited to southeastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula.
But now the Ukrainian people are facing an even greater disaster – a massive invasion from Russia on multiple fronts. Ukrainian children and youth are terrified, waiting in bomb shelters, hearing explosions, being rushed with few belongings into cars headed west, and kissing their fathers goodbye as their dads are called up to fight the Russian army. At the same time, youth are organizing supply kits, connecting people to vital services, and raising awareness of the realities on the ground.
GFC started supporting new Ukrainian community-based partners just a few months ago as part of the Spark Fund, a partnership with the Avast Foundation. The Spark Fund invests in youth-led and youth-focused groups tackling injustice and inequality, driving transformational change, and building a more inclusive post-pandemic world by harnessing the power of digital technologies.
Two of these local partners are based in eastern Ukraine, where they work to promote peace-building efforts among children and youth. Both organizations were formed after the first invasion by Russia in 2014.
One of these organizations, based in Poltava, Ukraine, is a youth-led group that works with children and youth through theater, empowering young people to understand themselves and their identities through art. (For their safety, GFC is not naming its partner organizations in Ukraine.)
On February 25, two days into the new war, GFC Programs and Partnerships Associate Nasra Ayub and I spoke with the leaders of this organization about the situation in Poltava. According to them, the prices of basic food products have already risen fivefold. Poor families are most at risk of food insecurity. Pharmacies have been completely emptied, as medicine and bandages have been sent to the Ukrainian army.
About 20 students from Poltava, many of whom work with this GFC partner organization, are currently in Poland on an exchange program. They were set to return to Ukraine on March 6, but now they aren’t sure if they can come back. They have no idea when they will see their families again.
So far, there have been no attacks on Poltava. Just 100 miles to the east, however, Kharkiv, Ukraine, is surrounded. This large city is under constant bombardment and tank assault. On February 25, through email, I connected with a GFC partner organization based in Kharkiv. This organization works with children and youth living with disabilities, but during this war, they are working with all those who need help.
“Help is very much needed,” said the organization’s executive director. “They are already firing at residential areas. Today, shells hit residential areas and a children’s hospital.”
“Our organization helps not only children and youth, but also elderly blind people who have no relatives,” she added. “Now, we must make sure that they have water and food and help them go down to the shelter during the shelling. People are in great need of help, they need medicine, food, drinking water, and sleeping bags for shelters.”
Also on the frontline is a GFC partner in Lysychansk, a small city located just a few miles from the original 2014 frontline between Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists in southeastern Ukraine. This youth group has lived with this conflict for nearly eight years, and they are determined to make a difference. Young people created the organization to use theater and creative expression as a tool for teaching conflict resolution and peace-building between communities.
GFC proudly welcomed this organization as a new Spark Fund partner in November 2021. The organization received its first grant just a few weeks ago. Since the war started, GFC staff have been unable to connect with the organization’s staff. We hope that they are safe.
Ukrainian children need our help. Food, winter clothing, and fuel are essential for families whose apartments have been bombed or who are on the move to western Ukraine and beyond. GFC’s community-based partners in Ukraine are located in Kyiv and Kharkiv, both under intense attack, as well as in three other communities in the country. We hope that you can help us help our partners during these tragic events.
Header photo: View from a Global Fund for Children site visit to Ukraine. © GFC
Global Fund for Children (GFC) UK Trust, created in 2006, is a UK registered charity (UK charity number 1119544). We work to generate vital income, create new fundraising opportunities, and raise awareness of the invaluable work of GFC’s grassroots grantees. Our aim is to extend the reach of GFC in the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond.
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