Toll of conflict in Eastern Ukraine on children: increased aggression, anxiety, substance abuse


  • On average, 53 civilians in Ukraine have been killed or injured every day since the war began on February 24, 2022
  • The homes of nearly half (47%) of children in Ukraine have sustained some form of damage
  • Over half of all children surveyed said their peers were using smoking and other addictions as a coping mechanism; this rises to 77% for boys ages 14–17
boy plays with a new teddy bear provided by Divchata for psychosocial support.
Oleksandr (9 years old) had just received a new teddy bear from World Vision's partner organization Divchata (meaning 'Girls'). The local organization provides psychosocial support and social activities for children affected by the war. World Vision released a new assessment revealing the devastating consequences to children in conflict-affected areas of Ukraine. © World Vision 2023

KYIV (February 21, 2023) — A year since the escalation of hostilities in Ukraine, a new assessment from global humanitarian organization World Vision reveals the devastating consequences to children in the conflict-affected regions of Kherson, Kharkiv and Dnipro.

The assessment, jointly conducted by World Vision and its Ukrainian partner Arms of Mercy, reveals that 83% of children that they spoke to are extremely concerned about their safety, with more than 1 in 3 children listing violence as one of their top three worries.

“Children in Ukraine desperately need peace,” says Chris Palusky, World Vision’s multi-country director for the organization’s Ukraine crisis response. “For many children in eastern Ukraine, this conflict hasn’t been going on for one year; it’s been more than nine. Even before the escalation last February, almost 1 in 5 children in eastern Ukraine were smoking or using synthetic drugs as they coped with the constant stress of violence, displacement and separated families. The fact that almost 80% of teen boys now [say] their peers have turned to smoking and other drugs to cope is extremely alarming.”

Since February 2022, the situation in Ukraine has rapidly deteriorated. According to the U.N. Office for Humanitarian Affairs, an average of 53 civilians have been killed or injured every day and more than 17 million people in Ukraine now need urgent humanitarian assistance. Many children have lost their homes or had to move to safer places; almost half (47%) of the surveyed children said their homes have been damaged in some way.

“Children are struggling to cope with trauma piled on top of trauma,” Palusky continued. “Based on the experiences of other children and families affected by conflict, we can expect that over 1.5 million children in Ukraine may develop depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder or schizophrenia as a result of their experiences during the war.

“In addition to increased substance abuse, our staff and partners tell us that children are increasingly fearful and struggle to contain their emotions,” he said, adding that according to the assessment, 21% of children say their peers are turning to physical violence as a coping mechanism.

“This includes violence against their peers. They want to take revenge on others as they see relatives hurt by shelling, parents away on the frontlines, and it all feels desperately unjust.

“Their families are suffering the economic consequences of the conflict, and they cannot afford the things they used to. Over half—53%—of children are very concerned by movement restrictions. And education, so important for giving children a sense of normalcy, is all but impossible.  Frequent power outages and air alarms are keeping many children out of school as they struggle to connect to online classes from bunkers.”

World Vision has been working in Ukraine and other neighboring countries to respond to the crisis since February 2022, including providing mental health and psychosocial support to over 36,000 children and family members in the first 11 months of the response.

In the Kharkiv, Dnipro and Kherson regions, World Vision and Arms of Mercy are working with children to provide psychosocial support and safe daycare centers, as well as address basic needs such as food, hygiene supplies and heating.

World Vision also plans to scale up protection programming in Eastern Ukraine for Roma communities, a mostly stateless and marginalized minority group, through its partner Lacho Drome.

“Restoring a sense of normalcy for children is crucial, and all parties to the conflict must respect and uphold commitments to international humanitarian and human rights law,” Palusky said. “Without peace, children in Ukraine will continue to pay a severe mental as well as physical toll.”

About the assessment:

The needs assessment was conducted in Kharkiv, Kherson and Dnipro oblasts by World Vision and Arms of Mercy in December 2022, with follow-up and data analysis in January 2023. The assessment team spoke to a total of 457 children between the ages of 9 and 17.

Key findings include:

  • 47% of the 457 children surveyed had some form of damage to their homes
  • 21% of children said their peers use violence as a coping mechanism
  • Over half of all children (51%) said their peers were using smoking and other addictions as a coping mechanism; this rises to 77% for boys ages 14–17
  • 34% of children said the threat of violence was one of their top three worries
  • 83% of children said safety was one of their top three worries
  • 53% of children said restrictions on movement was one of their top three worries
  • More than 1 in 10 (11%) of all children under 18 reported feeling unhappy or very unhappy

About World Vision:
World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. World Vision serves all people, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender. For more information, please visit or follow on Twitter @WorldVisionUSA.