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KYIV, February 20 — Children in Ukraine have been forced to hide underground for an average of about 920 hours in the last year – equivalent to 38.3 days, or more than a month - since the conflict in Ukraine escalated, Save the Children said today. 

Official data show 16,207 air raid sirens have sounded in Ukraine during the past year, lasting for about an hour on average. Sirens warn civilians of a missile strike or shelling threat, prompting them to take shelter. Families and children often spend up to eight  hours underground, trapped by continuous attacks.  

In Kharkiv, for example, there were more than 1,700 air sirens in the past year lasting for about 1,500 hours total, while regions of Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia experienced over 1,100 hours of alarms each.   

Along the frontline in the south-east of Ukraine, shelling rarely ceases. Families there have been forced to abandon their homes - many of them now destroyed - for life underground without basic conveniences including electricity, water, and heating.  

One year after the escalation of conflict in Ukraine, Save the Children has spoken to children and their families who have endured hundreds of hours of sirens and sheltering underground.

“We were all crying, we were terrified to death,” said Sophia*, 16, recalling how she woke up to explosions and sirens on 24 February in Kharkiv. 

After being displaced several times, she worked with volunteers and got herself and eight other children evacuated, eventually to Zakarpattia, in the far west of Ukraine, where she now lives with her grandmother.  

Even though the western region is deemed one of the safest, Sophia said the air raid sirens remain frequent. When a siren goes off, she normally spends an hour in a dark and cold cellar under their detached house.  But if the alarm catches her while at school, taking shelter turns into a quest.  

If there is an air raid siren, the senior students – 9th to 11th grade – we go to the village council. They have equipped a bunker there,” Sophia says. “It takes us five minutes to run there [to the village council], or 15 minutes to walk. But I have always wondered if the alarm starts during blackout and we hear no siren, and there is a missile strike, how much would it take me to rush to the shelter… It took 47 seconds.”

Having an equipped and fully furnished bunker is not something everyone can afford, and many continue to take shelter in often cold basements of residential blocks or other buildings. 

In Dnipro, eastern Ukraine, attacks are more frequent. The city was recently shocked by a missile strike that destroyed an apartment block and took the lives of 46 civilians. A teacher in a suburban kindergarten in Dnipro told Save the Children air raid sirens are now a way of life for her pupils:  

“They get dressed, go outside, go around the institution, and go down to the shelter… It takes about 3 minutes for the children to get ready to go down,” — says Svitlana*, the teacher, who along with colleagues must evacuate around 200 children — many of them with special needs - every time the siren goes off.  

To reduce the stress of the sirens, teachers have at times created playful drills to prepare children for emergencies and train them to take shelter fast. 

The kindergarten’s basement is now equipped for drawing, playing, and dancing. Also, every pupil has a stall with an emergency backpack full of water, snacks, warm clothes, and favourite toys.  


“To be honest, the children like it [going to the basement] so much that most of the time they would say "When's the next time we'll go to the cave?" That's what they call it,” Svitlana* said. “We also do inclusive education, and there are children who start crying. So, we have a place called a corner of solitude in our shelter. For those children it's of course better to be alone for some time and not to hear all that noise.”

The stress of everyday life under bombardment is leaving a heavy toll on children and adults’ mental health. The World Health Organization estimates that one in five people who experience conflict are at high risk of facing some form of psychological disorder, with symptoms growing more severe as hostilities rage on.  

This catastrophic year of war on children has been assessed in a new Save the Children reportA Heavy Toll. It outlines the grave dangers facing children every day in Ukraine, and highlights the psychological distress of having witnessed violence, separation from family and friends, displacement, and lack of access to education

Sonia Khush, Save the Children Country Director in Ukraine, said:

“A year ago, the conflict that escalated to an all-out war drastically changed the lives of millions of children in Ukraine. Thousands of families were forced to flee their homes to escape rapidly spreading atrocities. Many children witnessed their homes and schools being destroyed and their loved ones being killed by never-ending shelling and missiles. And as the war now enters its second year, children continue to witness new waves of violence.”

“Children didn’t start this war but they are paying the highest price. What always amazes me, however, is how resilient children are to withstand all the challenges, and how if we give them a chance they know how to take difficult experiences and turn them to growth, with a little bit of help.”

The UK Government has been leading efforts on accountability for crimes committed in Ukraine, but more action is required to protect children from violations of their rights and hold perpetrators to account.

For Ukrainians who have come to the UK, there is a need for longer-term support ensuring that no family is at risk of homelessness and psychological support is available to all who need it. Save the Children also urges the UK Government to take lessons from the Homes for Ukraine scheme and offer the same support to all refugees, irrespective of country of origin. 

The aid agency also calls on the warring parties to adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, and ensure that civilians and civilian objects, especially homes, schools, and hospitals, are protected from attack. 

Save the Children has been working in Eastern Ukraine since 2014. Since 24 February, we have dramatically scaled up our operations and have reached over 800,000 people — including 436,500 children, with life-saving assistance such as food and water, cash transfers, and safe spaces, to make sure families have the support they need.  

— ENDS —


·        The air raid sirens in Ukraine are announced in every region (oblast) separately. 16,207 (as of February 10) is a total of air sirens recorded across Ukraine calculated by adding numbers of alerts from each region (24 oblasts and Kyiv) 

·        Methodology: as of February 10, 2023, the aggregate of air raid sirens in Ukraine constitutes 22,995 hours. 22,995/25(total for 24 regions of Ukraine plus the capital of Kyiv)=919.8 hours of air sirens time on average for each region. Exact numbers for Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions only apply to the areas that are controlled by the Government of Ukraine. Credible data from non-government-controlled areas of Ukraine is not available. Save the Children assumes that families living in close proximity (less than 40km from the frontline) to the active combat are forced to spend all their time in shelters due to continuous fighting, shelling and missile strikes. The Ukraine government also aggregates data from the same official sources for documenting the number of air raid sirens; it started collating statistics from 15 March 2022. 

*Names have been changed to protect identity

For more information, please contact:

media@savethechildren.org.uk / +44(0)7831 650409