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‘I Want Peace’: Ukraine and a Christmas at War

·         Three Ukrainian photographers capture the lives of children who fled and those who stayed in Ukraine.

·         Oksana* says her eight-year-old daughter’s hair has started to turn grey from stress.

·         “I want peace”:  Masha*, 9, in the UK says when asked what she wants for Christmas.

PHOTOS: https://www.contenthubsavethechildren.org/Package/2O4C2SDBWU4X

VIDEO: https://www.contenthubsavethechildren.org/Package/2O4C2SDBW6ZD

KYIV, 19 December 2022– From an eight-year-old girl whose hair has started to turn grey to a nine-year girl who has put peace at the top of her Christmas wish list, a  powerful new photo series has documented the lives of children and their families living in Ukraine, Romania and the UK as they approach Christmas living in a war zone or as refugees in Europe.  

Renowned Ukrainian photographers Anastasia VlasovaAlina Smutko and Nina Sologubenko have captured children’s daily lives, and their hopes and dreams, as they face the end of the year in their new reality. 

Their images show the impact of almost 10 months of war, which has devastated the lives of 7.5 million children from Ukraine. Constant attacks including air strikes, missiles and shelling are estimated by the UN to have claimed the lives of over 400 children and left over 700 with life-changing injuries since February. The true figure is likely to be much higher.  

The war in Ukraine has triggered the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. As a result, millions of children from Ukraine will be spending this Christmas far from home, family and loved ones. 

Almost 8 million people from Ukraine have fled to European countries, an estimated 40% of whom are children. For those who have stayed in the country, an estimated 6.5 million people have fled their homes due to the conflict and are now internally displaced. Many now face a winter of hardship and suffering, enduring freezing temperatures, blackouts and lack of shelter. 

Khrystyna*, 8, from Kyiv, spent 5-6 hours at a time in a freezing basement taking shelter with her family during the height of the conflict whilst missiles and bombs rained down on their community. Her mother Oksana* says her daughter’s hair has started to turn grey from the stress of what she endured, and cries when she braids it. 

“Look at my elder daughter, she  is only 8, and she’ has grey hair. I do not tell her, but when I braid her hair, I burst into tears, because she is a little child, and they saw such things,” said *Oksana. 

“It was very scary sitting in the basement, knowing that if God forbid the house was hit, you would be buried. You're not worried about yourself at that point, you're scared for your children.”

Khrystyna*, nows this Christmas will be very different from previous years as they try to recover from the trauma of what happened in their community. 

“When Santa arrives, we're already asleep and New Year begins at 12 o'clock. We wake up in the morning and go to open the presents. Last New Year we woke up in the night and went to open the presents anyway,” said Khrystyna*,

The photo series captures the heartbreak of leaving family and friends behind in Ukraine and the challenge of starting life in a new country, but also the hope, support and generosity of the public in refugee hosting countries. In the UK, the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal has raised over £390 million to support families affected by the war in Ukraine, which is one of the largest humanitarian appeals on record. 

Karina*, 12, and her family have been driven from their homes twice during the conflict, fleeing to escape the fighting in Donetsk in 2014 and this year when missiles struck close to their home in Odessa. They found sanctuary in Suceava county northern Romania, where they receive counselling and other support from Save the Children’s support centre for refugees from Ukraine, which has received DEC funding. 

“I have met all my friends there, they organise trips, they give away coupons, they help with food, water, clothes. They really want to help very much, and they really help,” said Karina*.  

“On some of their (counselling) classes I was crying, they could really get into your soul...there's support and compassion.”

When asked about Christmas she says: “There's going to be something lacking. you know, the atmosphere of Ukrainian Christmas....”

Nine-year-old Masha* fled with her family from Kyiv in June when the city was attacked and now lives in a seaside town in UK. She left her father in Kyiv and has not seen him for six months. They say this is the biggest challenge facing the family, that they are apart.  

“I would like my dad to come here, or at least to talk to him over the phone,” said Masha. “He said everything I draw may come true. So, I drew for us to be together, for us to be at the seaside next summer… And when I was drawing him, I felt happy.”

When asked what she wants for Christmas, Masha said “I want peace”. 

Gwen Hines, CEO Save the Children UK, said;

 “Millions of families from Ukraine are facing unbearable hardship, many separated by a senseless war making this Christmas one like no other.  The UK government must continue to provide the necessary support to help these children recover from the deep scars this crisis has left on their lives.

 “We must also recognise the unprecedented outpouring of support from the British public, who have opened their hearts and homes to thousands of refugees from Ukraine and raised over £390m, that is providing food, shelter and care for children and their families.

 “This must be the last Christmas that children from Ukraine experience outside of their country, or living under bombs in Ukraine."


Notes to editors

·         *Name has been changed to protect the identity. 

·         Ukrainians celebrate Christmas on 25th December or 7th January, in line with the Orthodox calendar. Both dates are officially recognised. 


·         Ukraine, Anastasia Vlasova https://www.saatchiart.com/anastasiavlasova

·         Romania, Alina Smutko https://www.alinasmutkoph.com/

·         UK, Nina Sologubenko https://www.ninasologubenko.com/

Our work in Ukraine:

Save the Children has been operating in Ukraine since 2014, delivering humanitarian aid to children and their families. Save the Children and local partners are providing shelter, food, cash, fuel, psychological support, and baby and hygiene kits to displaced families. The aid organisation is supporting refugee families across Europe and helping children to access education and other critical services. 

Our work in Romania:

Save the Children Romania is responding to the protection and psychosocial well-being needs of children in the affected population by working through integrated counselling hubs and mobile teams that provide initial information, psychosocial support, and connection with local authorities through referrals. At the moment, Save the Children Romania runs eight counselling hubs that provide the same services with additional capacity for more in-depth intervention including focused individual and group interventions by trained specialists (e.g. clinical psychologist). Through the hubs, Save the Children Romania is meeting the immediate needs of children and families by providing cash and voucher assistance, hygiene items, and more. There are specialist teams delivering social and recreational services and basic emotional and practical support for refugee children and their families. In addition, Save the Children Romania is helping children to access safe, inclusive, quality education.  

Our work in the UK: 

Save the Children UK has developed and delivered training in child-protection and safeguarding for front-line workers and host families. This online training focuses on the situational context, cultural biases and assumptions, communication with and supporting children and mental health.  

Save the Children UK is working in partnership with Barnardo’s, the NSPCC, and Royal College of Paediatric and Child Health (RCPCH) to share guidance for families hosting Ukrainian refugees.  

 We have created a Welcome Pack specifically for families fleeing Ukraine. The pack aims to support parents and help children escaping war feel safe. It includes safeguarding advice, games and activities, wellbeing support, and welcome messages from young people in the UK. 

Save the Children UK has also provided cash and voucher assistance for families in Wales and Northern Ireland.