Shelled, shot and maimed: Children risk death and life-changing injury in Europe’s forgotten conflict, just hours away from this weekend’s Champions League Final

Saturday 26 May 2018

As Ukraine gears up to hold one of the largest sporting events in the world, the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid, Europe’s forgotten conflict is raging just a few hours down the road. The fighting is entering its fifth year and has claimed over 10,000 lives. More than 200 hundred of the dead have been children.

Shells still pound the streets on a daily basis, schools are destroyed, and explosive weapons maim children. This is all happening just a three-hour flight from London, in a region home to millions of people.  Just last week a 13 y/old boy and his father were killed when their house was hit by shelling and four schools were damaged in separate attacks. Many children were sitting in their classrooms when the shells struck. April has seen a dramatic increase in violence, with 13 people killed and 33 injured.

As summer begins in Eastern Ukraine and children break up from school, Save the Children is warning that hundreds of thousands of children could be at increased risk of mines, unexploded ordnance and remnants of war.

In just over four years, Eastern Ukraine has become one of the most mine-contaminated places on earth, endangering children who live, play and go to school in the area. Playgrounds, fields and forests are littered with landmines, trip wires, and booby traps. The fighting is most severe along the “contact line” a 500KM strip of land that divides government and non-government-controlled areas, home to over 100,000 children and pitted with explosives. In a recent report by the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining, Ukraine was said to have the highest number of vehicle mine casualties in the world, more than either Syria or Afghanistan. In 2017 an average of one child was injured by the conflict every week. Landmines, explosive remnants of war (ERW) and unexploded ordnance (UXO) were the leading cause of child casualties, leaving children with lifelong disabilities. Save the Children is warning that 2018 could be even more dangerous.


Olha* at home. Credits: Simon Edmunds/Save the Children

Earlier this year, Olha* a four-year-old girl almost lost her life and her best friend *Boris, a nine-year-old boy lost four fingers when they picked up a mine thinking it was a whistle. The girl’s mother, * Valentyna* told Save the Children: “The children phoned me and started telling me that something exploded…I did not see a hole in the child’s belly at first. I saw a detached thumb. I saw a bone sticking out. I did not know what had happened, I got scared. There was a lot of blood. “The thumb has been reattached and is functioning now. Thank God they saved it. But they were not able to save the boy’s fingers. He lost four fingers.” Olha* had to travel four hours to the nearest functioning hospital where doctors managed to save her life. She now has a colostomy bag as the shrapnel ruptured her intestines. The shrapnel in her liver, bladder and other parts of her stomach couldn’t be removed and she will live with this for the rest of her life.  *Boris lost four of his fingers in the blast and now struggles to write in class. The family lives in the town of Krasnohorivka, just two kilometres from the frontline. The area hasn’t had heating or electricity for four years because of the conflict. In winter, temperatures can drop below -20. The hospital has been shelled beyond repair and three out of five schools have been destroyed by missile attacks and shelling.

Save the Children Programme Manager Margaux Wetterwald said: “As the eyes of the world focus on this weekend’s Champions League Final in Kiev, people need to be reminded that a bloody conflict still rages in the east of the country, killing and maiming hundreds of children.  Just last week a 13 y/old boy was killed with his father in a shelling attack, and four schools were damaged. This is happening on Europe’s doorstep and it’s been forgotten by the world.  Areas that were once safe for children to play, playgrounds, the forest, are littered with lethal explosives. Children we work with describe seeing their friends and parents blown up by mines in front of their eyes, many are so distressed they cannot sleep through the night.  It’s completely unacceptable that children are risking their lives when they go out to play with their friends. Every child should have a safe place to play. Both sides to the conflict must stop using these horrendous weapons. The international community must step up efforts to end the suffering for these vulnerable children and bring peace to the region. Save the Children calls for all sides of the conflict to recommit to the ceasefire and allow mine clearance activities and ensure the protection of children at all times”.

Save the Children provides Mine Risk Education classes to thousands of children along the contact line in Eastern Ukraine, to prevent children becoming victims of unexploded ordinance.