Christmas will never be the same for Ivan.
While the family slept, an artillery shell crashed through the roof of his home in eastern Ukraine. The blast killed Ivan’s parents instantly. Ivan would have died also, except he was spending the night with a friend.
This Christmas, ten-year-old Ivan became an orphan.
Children are generally kept safe and sheltered from harmful environments, so they suffer the most when war shatters their protected worlds. The joys of childhood are smashed like a china doll in one shell burst.
In one horrific moment, Ivan’s world became a pile of rubble, like the one where a home once stood. His parents gone. His home gone. Ivan’s 10-year-old brain cannot begin to fathom why.
When his entire family was taken out by a Russian artillery shell, the little things Ivan had relied upon – like Mommy and Daddy’s comforting hugs –were replaced by assignment to a mass shelter in a state facility. And Ivan is one of the lucky ones.
The statistics paint a chilling picture. UNICEF estimates 1.7 million children have been affected by the upheaval in eastern Ukraine, and OCHA (the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) has tracked a humanitarian crisis with the number of refugees exploding from 190,000 in late August to nearly 640,000 today. One-third of the people displaced are children like Ivan. Young girls and boys alike are stalked and enslaved by sex traffickers.
If they somehow escape that dismal fate, the children are placed in refugee camps and shelters where rampant disease, fostered by poor hygiene, thins out their ranks. About 10,000 have already been consigned to State care and are condemned to a loveless, hollow existence. Hunger and cold plague the rest and quickly snuff out the spark in their eyes. The psychological damage will last for decades.
In the United States, many of us use happy memories of our childhood as a wellspring of strength for the rest of our lives. The children of war-torn Ukraine need someone to find other sources of inspiration. That’s why we gave Christmas presents to more than 1,000 child refugees last month, and that’s why the children are a major focus of what we do through Save Ukraine Now.