One in two refugee children in Ukraine experiences anxiety, and the number increases dramatically, up to 78%, in the case of children over 16 years old, according to a study carried out by the organization Save the Children. 57% of refugee children in Ukraine feel unhappy since leaving their country.
Children who have fled Ukraine to live in Europe face mental health problems, with more than one in two children interviewed feeling anxious or worried about their future, according to a new report by Save the Children.
The report, This is my life and I don’t want to waste a year of it: The experiences and well-being of children fleeing Ukraine, is based on surveys, focus groups and conversations with more than 1,000 refugee children and their carers from seven European countries: Finland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Sweden.
What happens to the many refugee children in Ukraine?
The research found that refugee children who attended school were less likely to feel lonely, but school enrollment rates for children who fled the war in Ukraine remain worryingly low in Europe. Only a third of children attended school before the summer holidays, and a quarter of them did not intend to enroll in a local school in the 2022-2023 school year.
Half of the children interviewed said they feel more anxious since fleeing Ukraine, with this figure rising to 78% for children over 16.
Foreign languages are a barrier
More than half of the children interviewed believed that their situation would improve if they had friends from the host community (57%), if they had the opportunity to play sports or practice their hobbies (56%) and if they would learn the local language (54%). Boys are significantly more likely than girls to say they want to have friends in the host community (64% vs. 52%, respectively).
The report shows that language is a clear barrier to making local friendships, as 15-year-old Ana, who fled to Romania from Ukraine, explained: “I feel a bit uncomfortable here. I no longer have my friends and classmates. Most people my age don’t speak English, so I can’t really communicate with them. I have some friends, they are Ukrainians whom I met here, we are quite close”.
Andriy, 13, a refugee from Ukraine now living in Lithuania, said: “I went to (a local school – no) for two weeks, but there weren’t many teachers who spoke Russian, so I I returned to the Ukrainian online school (…). There are Lithuanian kids I would like to befriend, (but they didn’t want to talk to me – no). I made (Lithuanian friends – no) in two summer camps, on the football field and during football lessons”.
How many refugee children from Ukraine have left so far?
Since February 24, around 7.7 million refugees have fled Ukraine to seek safety in other European countries, and an estimated 40 percent of them are children. Many children witnessed painful events, having to leave their homes and leave their loved ones behind. Host country governments have a critical role to play in supporting children so that issues such as anxiety and unhappiness do not turn into long-term mental health problems.
Governments have struggled to ensure children are enrolled in school, and countries with the most refugees face the greatest challenges. There are few language teachers to help Ukrainian children learn the host country’s language, and municipalities often lack the funds to hire additional teaching staff. In Poland, for example, the report showed that only 41% of refugee children from Ukraine are enrolled in local schools.
Some parents and caregivers of refugee children from Ukraine, when asked, said they prefer to use the online learning program that the Ukrainian government previously developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic because they do not know how long they will stay in host countries. However, online learning has its limitations and can be insecure, and children using this option run the risk of missing out on the other benefits of physical schooling.
What does the future hold for these children?
Gabriela Alexandrescu, Executive President of Save the Children Romania, explained: “Save the Children Romania has diversified its program for refugee children from Ukraine and, beyond immediate humanitarian assistance, we focus on the socio-emotional health of Ukrainian children, we have developed programs for them special education. There are children who have gone through deep traumas, some have lost their homes, some have lost their schools, and it is essential to restore socio-emotional links, as is, for example, education in the mother tongue. At the same time, it is crucial that these children feel integrated, not to have the burden of being foreigners, that’s why we also organized Romanian language lessons for them”.