February 22, 2023

"What we have done for the Ukrainian children" G. Silvestri's Speech at the United Nations headquarter in New York

“Gross Human Rights Violations Due to the Aggression Against Ukraine”

Wednesday, February 22, 2023 at 10:00-13:00, 15:00-18:00

Trusteeship Council Chamber, UN Headquarters 

New york, United States

New York, February 22. 

On the occasion of the High-Level event “Gross Human Rights Violations Due to the Aggression Against Ukraine” at the UN Headquarters in New York, Giampaolo Silvestri, AVSI Secretary General, described what AVSI has been doing in Ukraine since the outbreak of the war, with a focus on child protection.

Gratitude for the Opportunity

Thank you for organizing this event and for inviting my organization to share our first-hand experience – being in the field offers us a direct view, closeness, and understanding of the true needs of Ukrainian children and their families.

Let me briefly introduce AVSI: we carry out development cooperation and humanitarian aid projects in 39 countries. Our mission is to work for a world in which every person can be the protagonist of their own integral development, along with that of their community, even in emergency situations.

AVSI’s Method of Work 

AVSI’s approach in responding to the violation of children’s rights in conflicts has been tested in different contexts. It originates in Rwanda, after the 1994 genocide, then was practiced in Northern Uganda, DRC, Kenya, Ivory Coast, South Sudan, Eastern Europe, the Middle East region since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, and now in Ukraine. Experience taught us that only a multi-sectoral, holistic approach – which includes all the factors contributing to the child’s well-being (medical and psychological care, food, shelter, education) – has a real impact in responding to their needs and addressing the violation of their rights.

Furthermore, AVSI makes use of a community approach also in conflicts, by fostering the involvement and activation of family members (when present), local associations, religious communities, and others, to build a safe environment for every child.

What we see, the context and the war’s impact on the rights of children:

Here are a few numbers we should remember: since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, 429 children were killed and 808 injured (OCHA Situation Report, Last updated: 10 Feb 2023).

The war has caused immense mental trauma to children exposed to the horrors of fighting and hostilities. War trauma, social isolation, daily struggles without power and heating, displacement-related challenges, and more: all these factors are expected to cause long-lasting mental health issues, for up to at least five years after the war ends.

What we see as children’s violations Family separation or disrupted family relations, including forcible transfers to Russia; exposure to abuse and exploitations either as victims or witnesses; attacks on schools and hospitals which deprive children of access to education and medical services. Children also suffer the consequences of their parent’s distress conditions.

I will now mention some clear examples of the dimension and dire consequences of the Ukrainian crisis:

  • -massive destruction of schools and forced displacement have severely impacted children and hampered the education system across the country. The 2005 UN Security Council Resolution that identifies and condemns the six grave violations against children in times of war includes, as the third one, “attacks on schools or hospitals”. According to the Government of Ukraine, 2,917 education facilities have been bombed or shelled during the war, with damage or destruction to 580 such facilities documented by OHCHR
  • -the energy crisis exacerbated these challenges, as online classes were affected by internet and electricity disruptions
  • -the forced displacement increased the risks of family separation and abuse, exposing Ukrainian children to immense trauma
  • -social isolation further exacerbated such trauma, as many children had limited, or even no more contact with friends, as they were evacuated or unreachable due to communications breakdowns.

What do to? Education First

Due to our history and mission, AVSI always dedicates special attention to education, a key issue in emergency and development interventions.

We are following the same approach in the Ukrainian war, working hard to ensure the necessary support to children (and their families), and to uphold their right to education and access to adequate childcare services. While responding to multiple needs, we try to safeguard continuity in learning and safe and inclusive spaces to do so, whenever possible, adopting a comprehensive and multi-stakeholder approach.

How to proceed?

a. A regional approach: since the beginning, we took a regional approach in our response to the Ukrainian crisis. This allows us to have a broad overview of the current situation, to follow the refugee flows and the impact of the war on different areas and sectors. This is a crisis without borders. 

Up to now, we supported around 200,000 people (local population in Ukraine, IDPs and refugees) thanks to emergency response interventions in Ukraine (in Lviv, Poltava, Sumy, Kharkiv), Poland, Romania and Italy.

b. The role of civil society organizations: We work closely together with local organizations: in every region where we operate, we promote the role of civil society organizations and partners (Caritas Spes and others, local NGOs, etc.), as they are closer to the most vulnerable people and can identify their authentic needs. Their position allows them to increase mutual understanding and to create a stable link between foreign organizations and local reality, which is essential to carry out effective actions.

 As a matter of fact, we could be present and at work in Ukraine thank you to all our donors, particularly I have to thank you and recognize the key role of the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and the AICS, the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation + UN agencies OCHA, UNICEF, UNESCO, UNDP, UNOPS) EU , EU (ECHO), pooled funds like Education Cannot Wait and private foundations.

c. How to defend and promote the right to education?

The following suggestions and recommendations are rooted in our current experience and presence in Ukraine:

  • -Always finding new solutions to support the continuity of education services: children have to be supported in the learning process, including psychological support, as well as benefit from the provision of learning kits and recreational materials. AVSI is currently establishing 10 digital learning centers in the oblasts of Kharkiv, Poltava, and Sumy to support access to distance learning.
  • -Rehabilitating learning spaces – where safety conditions allow it: we have to make sure children are back in school as soon as possible, as it means being back to normalcy. For instance, we rehabilitated 28 schools in three of the oblasts among the ones most affected by the conflict.
  • -Creating spaces where children can meet other children, to let them regain a time and space where they can actually be children again, far from the anxiety and fear, at least for a little while. We are currently supporting 12 child-friendly spaces, reaching a total of 5,000 children with recreational activities and psychosocial support.
  • -Training teachers on psychosocial support and referral mechanisms for children and/or providing them with various teaching resources, kits, and guides. Teachers and other educational personnel are front-liners, they reported challenges in supporting students and their mental health and well-being. We trained 120 teachers (currently employed in the public school system) in child protection and psychosocial support, while also providing them with education-in-emergency toolkits.
  • -Supporting the children’s parents and families, their caregivers, through positive parenting sessions and psychosocial support to avoid a potential increase in violence and conflict inside the family. 850 parents and caregivers strengthened their skills in psychosocial support and positive parenting thanks to AVSI’s training.
  • -Collaborating with local authorities in strategic planning, in line with the required process of reforms and according to the accountability principle. For instance, we have been coordinating with the Ukrainian authorities, especially in the highly affected oblast of Kharkiv, to select beneficiaries and choose target locations.
  • -Promoting partnerships with civil society organizations, which are better placed to enter the hardest-to-reach communities, including those close to the front line, where needs are dramatically acute.
  • -Promoting advocacy actions and raising awareness on the destiny of Ukrainian children: their destiny is not separated from one of our own children, who are growing up in a peaceful country. We must activate communities where we test and show evidence that the “other” is a value to us and not an enemy.

Last, but not least

We cannot forget the Ukrainian children who are living in Eastern Ukraine, in areas under Russian military control. They, too, need support and help. Due to the restrictions (on the movement of humanitarian staff and the blockage of relief supplies across the front line), however, we have no way of knowing how they are, and what they need.

We can’t forget them.

More about our Ukraine Response

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