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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

From darkness to light: how Ukrainian children find comfort and safety in shelters

Feeling safe and being social are crucial for children, especially in times of war. In Slavutych, a town in northern Ukraine, kindergarten children will have access to a bomb shelter that has been restored and equipped by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), ensuring their safety.

This shelter is one of 56 facilities in Ukraine that have been rehabilitated with the help of EU humanitarian funding and other donors to provide a safe haven for kindergarten and school children.

3 children standing in a kindergarten each holding a plush toy
Children in the EU-funded shelter in northern Ukraine can socialise and stay safe.

Previously, bomb shelters did not exist in the Slavutych kindergarten, and children and teachers were forced to hide behind walls during air alarms.

Now, children spend their rest hours in the shelter, which was specially equipped just over a month ago to protect them during air alerts and missile attacks.

2 photos, left: a table with chairs in front, right: colourful beds in front of the big shelter
Not long ago, this colourful and bright shelter was a dark and cold basement, providing no safety or comfort for children.

"We are going to visit an ant," says 5-year-old Maksym, clutching a toy as he follows his friends and teachers down the stairs. As he enters the shelter, he finds a bright, spacious room with drawings of ants on the walls.

There are currently 112 children who attend the kindergarten, and the shelter is designed for 220 people. According to the teachers, rest hours are best spent in the shelter for children’s sleep not to be disrupted during air alarms.

Photo of Oksana standing in the shelter
While the kindergarten was closed, Oksana and her colleagues guarded it, but then decided to return to work to support the children.

"While half awake, each child reacts to an air alarm differently, that's why we decided to have the rest hour in the shelter,” says teacher Oksana.

Instead of saying ‘we are going to the shelter’, we told children from the very beginning ‘we are going to visit an ant’. It's our favourite character”, she explains.

Following the start of Russia’s full-scale war on Ukraine in February 2022, the kindergarten in Slavutych remained closed for months until it was finally able to reopen its doors in the end of August. Yet,  teachers at the kindergarten say the fear is still very real.

"We try to hold on and not to show the children that we are worried,” says Oksana. “We hope for the better. When the kindergarten was closed, we guarded it and then decided to return to work, because children need to socialise.”

2 photos, left; a girl sitting in her bed in the shelter, right: several children playing in a corridor
Now the children have a safe and comfortable place to play and socialise.

In the kindergarten, children can play in a safe environment. Parents, too, can relax in the knowledge that the new shelter protects their children.

For children to continue attending schools and kindergartens, UNICEF and partners are rehabilitating shelters and rebuilding schools in the most affected areas of Ukraine. Currently, 56 facilities have been restored.

The implementation of this programme is possible thanks to the support and funding of the European Union and USAID. In addition, UNICEF provides necessary supplies and materials for various activities and for the comfort of children in shelters.

Story by UNICEF.
Publication date: 13/04/2023