Ukraine: Sleeping Children at Risk of Death and Injury in New Wave of Nighttime Attacks

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (May 25, 2023)—An increasingly regular barrage of nighttime missiles hitting Ukraine is causing children and families significant distress and putting their lives at risk, Save the Children said today. 

Ukraine’s Air Force Command said a total of 107 missiles and about 100 drones have been launched over the country in May. A total of 1120 air raid sirens have been recorded across Ukraine so far this month– already a 28% increase compared to April. Almost half of all sirens went off during the night—between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Families risk not waking up to the alarm and getting killed or injured by a direct strike or falling debris. The constant bombardment and wail of sirens is incredibly distressing for children and families, who are forced to take shelter in basements and cellars at home or travel further to locate a bunker without windows.

Kyiv has endured nighttime missile attacks in nine of the last 10 days, with ‘exceptionally dense’ air strikes occurring on May 16, Kyiv officials said. On that night, air defense shot down 18 missiles over the city, creating a barrage of explosions which caused debris to fall in residential areas.

“These past couple weeks have been hectic, as sirens were followed by explosions, and bright flashes occur almost every night. We have blankets prepared in the hallway of our apartment. Once the siren sounds at night, we take our son straight from his bed to the hallway. Our family stays there until all is clear,” said Oleksandr, a Save the Children staff member who lives in Kyiv with his wife and 5-year-old son.

“He isn’t often bothered by loud noises at night, but explosions wake him up. Luckily, he stays calm while with us. But in the morning, he feels anxious and irritated.”

Last year, Ukraine became the deadliest country for civilians living in populated areas. Explosive weapons with a wide impact area caused 93% of all civilian casualties.  According to the UN, since war escalated on February 24, 2022, more than 24,000 civilians have been killed or injured, including more than 1,500 children, although the actual figures are likely to be much higher.

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

“Children in Ukraine are once again living through the worst of hostilities as myriads of missiles and drones are being launched deep into Ukraine’s territory. On one night, they flew so close to the neighborhood I live in that I could hear their engines roaring. Then, bright flashes lit the sky and walls and windows at my apartment shook as the air defense was shooting down targets over residential areas.

“It is pure terror for children to wake up at night to atrocities like that, and to be forced into bunkers for hours instead of sleeping peacefully. The toll on children’s mental health and wellbeing is already beyond heavy after 15 months of war, and reinvigorated air strikes only add to the immense distress they have sustained.”

Save the Children is calling on all sides to adhere to obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law and ensure that civilians and civilian objects, especially those impacting children—such as homes, schools, and hospitals—are protected from attack. 

In Ukraine, Save the Children and local partners run a network of child-friendly spaces and digital learning centers for children to access safe and inclusive education along with psychosocial support that helps them relieve stress and cope with the experience of war.

Save the Children has been operating in Ukraine since 2014, delivering humanitarian aid to children and their families affected by hostilities. It is now also supporting refugee families across Europe and helping children to access education and other critical services.


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