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Rudi Luchmann, deputy representative of the United Nations Fund for Children (UNICEF), gives an interview to the Kyiv Post in his office of Kyiv, on July 29.
© Anastasia Vlasova
Present in Ukraine since 1997, the United Nations Fund for Children (UNICEF) is now struggling to face the multiple consequences of this war, as explained in an interview to the Kyiv Post Rudi Luchmann, deputy representative of UNICEF in Ukraine.
The figures are impressive. 1.7 million children affected by the war, more than 170,000 of them officially registered by the state services as “internally displaced,” as reported the United Nation fund for Children (UNICEF), in a report they released on July 17.
What do these figures really mean, asks from the outset Rudi Luchmann, deputy representative of UNICEF in Ukraine? Behind these numbers hid many individual stories, all of them different, of children affected by the war.
“That’s an industrial scale,” describes Luchmann.
The UNICEF office in Kyiv was created to monitor the situation of child protection in Ukraine as well as to advise to government in its child policies.
With the bursting of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the United Nations agency had to deploy itself all over the country, to face emergency situations. From 25 people working for the UNICEF four years ago, when Luchmann came into office, they are now almost 70.
Many children, suffering from the effects of the war, need a support, material and psychological. “We estimate about 37 percent of children coming from war environment are actually showing signs of stress and distress,” Luchmann told the Kyiv Post. “At least 400 shots (are) fired to achieve the death (of four) people,” he explained, but “whenever shots are being fired, children also suffer psychologically.”
These psychological traumas are to be added to the material difficulties these children are facing, either by living in conflict areas or by being refugees in their own country. The UNICEF has for instance brought humanitarian aid by distributing hygiene kits to the displaced families.
One of the key concern of the moment is the distribution of water in the war torn areas. As the water pipelines run on the surface, they may be shelled, thus cutting the supply of drinkable water to thousands of people. The problem is not only the smell that results from these cuts, explained Luchmann, but also the waterborne diseases, which threaten to spread in the concerned areas.
“We are actually the leading UN agency for water,” explained the deputy representative, as UNICEF has provided drinkable water to half a million people, by water trucking or by handing out bottled water.
The UNICEF also acts in the prevention of death linked to unexploded ordnances. “Very often children are curious, they go to the forest, they find something they play with it and then it strikes,” explained Luchmann, adding that “this king of death … (doesn’t) need to happen.”
The help of the UNICEF reaches the children through its many partner organizations. From the beginning, there has been many volunteers, recalls Luchmann. After monitoring the situation on the ground, the UNICEF has coordinated their action, to make it more effective and avoid the concentration of assistance in one specific field.
The UNICEF has especially helped to implement protection centers, where refugees can register, receive advices, humanitarian aid and psychological support. They are implemented in all Eastern Ukraine to assist the intern refugees, in Kharkiv and Mariupol as well as in Donetsk.
The UNICEF indeed works as well with state authorities as with the self-proclaimed authorities of the occupied regions. The United Nations agencies are politically neutral, recalls the UNICEF deputy representative. “The job has to be done and that what really counts at the end of the day,” he explained. The UN agencies have in the past managed to bring humanitarian aid in significantly harsher situations, such as in Somalia or in South Sudan.
The urgency for the moment, while a wave of heat is striking Ukraine, is to prepare for the incoming winter. In the previous year, the UNICEF had already distributed around 15,000 items of winter clothing for the children, yet, the needs have shifted in terms of geographical areas, explained Luchmann.
The situation is hard for the humanitarian workers. “We are all tired,” testified the deputy representative. This is not a job you leave behind he said: ”it’s not only a noble cause, I think it’s a simple human necessity.”
Even facing these emergency situations, the UN agency has not abandoned its previous mission of defending the children rights in general. As the war continues, it still prepares peace.
The UNICEF has distributed education kits to ensure these children will receive a good enough education to face to children. But the most important, explained Luchmann, is that they are taught the right things, “to make sure that they will learn how to live together at one stage.”
He however has hope. These children have not cross any foreign borders, they come from the same country, and share the same culture.
Since the beginning of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the UNICEF has managed to reach more than 30,000 children to help them to overcome their problems.
Kyiv Post staff writer Yves Souben can be reached at email@example.com