Child refugees in Ukraine need help. Here’s how the world can strengthen.

Alex Chen Ziyu/Getty

We walked through Warsaw No. 1 High School and met 50 Ukrainian teenage students who had attended his school for the past six weeks.

These children are among a large number of refugees fleeing Ukraine Vladimir Putin’s killing spree exist This used to be a vibrant country full of hopenow dealing with unprovoked sabotage Scale not seen since World War II.

As the principal escorted us to our first classroom for Ukrainian teenagers, he stopped to warn us that some of the stories we would hear could be “difficult.” as we expected. But the burly, otherwise “responsible” educator had a tough time, and his eyes filled with tears when he told us about a special 16-year-old girl (let’s call her Eva), who recently to Warsaw.

Eva has been living in the suburbs of Mariupol with her parents and a younger brother. Her father, a fighter in the Ukrainian Defense Forces, was on active duty the night the missile first hit their apartment complex. Terrified, Eva’s mom woke the kids, grabbed what could fit in a few suitcases, loaded everyone into the car, and drove west in a small convoy of friends and neighbors.

The result lies in the world’s handling of the Ukrainian war

They were about two miles from their neighborhood when a missile hit the car directly in front of Eva, blowing it to pieces, with another mom and her child inside. Eva and her family, already shocked by the bombing and leaving their home suddenly, watched in horror as their friend was killed.

Eva wasn’t the only child in the class who was deadpan and silent when we talked to her classmates. But there were others who asked us questions and told us their stories – many of them communicated well in English. They’re eager to talk about everything from life in America and our favorite classic American cars to the unimaginably violent horror stories they’ve witnessed and their anxiety about the future.

Some 13 million refugees have already left Ukraine (or moved to safer areas in the western part of the country), just the latest addition to the 80 million global refugees fleeing war, disaster and injustice. Many refugees have struggled with intractable social dilemmas for years.

Poland and other countries in the region are very compassionate and generous towards Ukrainians, inviting them into their communities and homes as they seek safety from Russia’s vicious invasion.

But how long can the kindness and acceptance of others last?

We suspect that patience and openness in this situation will not be inexhaustible. Then there’s the question of scale.

Poland alone hosts nearly 3 million Ukrainians (about 800,000 refugees have returned to Ukraine). Another 700,000 people applied for a special 18-month Polish identity card, which entitles them to housing support, schools, social services and work permits.

As of last week, there were about 300,000 Ukrainians in Warsaw, and the city’s population increased by more than 15 percent. That’s the equivalent of accepting and serving more than 1.2 million traumatized, non-English-speaking war refugees in New York City within a few weeks.

Refugees in Warsaw include about 100,000 school-age children, of which only about 20,000 are already in school, such as the high school we visited.

Warsaw’s dynamic mayor, Rafal Trzaskowski, who has opened special centres for many children experimenting with distance learning, wants to build temporary “container classrooms” to accommodate children who need to be in a classroom setting.

However, at present, resources can only meet a small part of the needs. Of course, this isn’t the only item on the mayor’s agenda. Warsaw’s health and hospital systems are under enormous pressure, not to mention the need to find permanent housing and jobs for new arrivals.

It is clear that Ukrainian refugees of all ages will be in trouble for the foreseeable future. Urgent action is required. We (the U.S. and our pro-Ukraine ally) must ensure that children receive the appropriate support to deal with trauma and that they enter an effective educational trajectory as quickly as possible.

What to do?

We recommend that the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) coordinate and focus efforts on two of the biggest challenges facing displaced children: mental health support and educational continuity. The agency has to do it now — and on a massive scale.

The goal should be Every Ukrainian refugees or internally displaced children. The work should be funded by rich countries, but all countries should hand over coordination to the High Commissioner. That is, these efforts must be highly transparent and accountable to donor countries from a programmatic, timeliness and financial standpoint.

Specific strategies to address the scale of these challenges in the shortest possible time include proven technology-based approaches such as language-appropriate distance learning systems, well-designed digital content, and the availability of necessary hardware. Technology and digital systems can also be widely used to train Ukrainian-speaking mental health professionals in psychological first aid and support.

The US, Ukraine, NATO have a secret weapon against Russia: patience.

The High Commissioner should immediately embrace innovative ideas – such as developing plans to expand the capacity of educational infrastructure by retrofitting mobile or “container” classrooms, deploying 3D printers to help build new facilities, and converting vacant buildings into schools.

At the same time, contributions from foundations, businesses and individuals are saving lives and bringing hope to those whose lives have been turned upside down. Help support schools with lunch programs for refugee children, hire Ukrainian-speaking teachers and psychologists, organize summer camps to provide children with positive experiences and instruction in Polish, create “school-to-school” programs at educational centers in the United States, these All are great contributions.

When we visited the refugee family shelter in central Warsaw, we saw a “suggestion box” filled with scraps of paper on which children wrote what they wanted, such as a T-shirt or a football. There is no doubt that meeting these needs of traumatized children is also important.

It goes without saying that the same efforts should be organized for each of the world’s 35 million refugee children. While attention is highly focused on the disaster in Ukraine, we hope we can learn strategies that can be applied elsewhere. We have to start somewhere. Let’s start here, now.

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