How to Talk to Your Children About Russia Invading Ukraine, and What You Can Do To Help

Russia's military invaded Ukraine, causing civilians all over the country to leave their homes and retreat to bomb shelters and subway stations. Here's how to help families in need.

Vigil for Ukraine
Photo: Getty

On Thursday, February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a "special military action" against Ukraine. Now, the country is contending with a full-blown invasion involving missile attacks and airstrikes. Civilians all over the country have been forced to leave their homes and take refuge in bomb shelters and subway stations. And TODAY reports that Ukrainian parents are aiming to protect their children by sending them into school wearing stickers that note their blood types in case of bombings.

As this crisis unfolds, it's likely you and your children are wondering what's going on and how they can make a difference for Ukranian families. Here's what you need to know, tips for talking to kids about it, and several ways to help.

What to Know About Russia's Invasion of Ukraine

What is now being called "Europe's first major war in decades" is the result of, according to the Wall Street Journal, Putin's "most direct attempt yet to to redraw the global security map and restore Russia's sphere of influence to the days of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, more than 30 years ago."

This timeline from the New York Times offers a detailed overview of key moments that led up to the invasion.

So far, the offensive has led to, according to a United Nations estimate, the flight of about 100,000 Ukranians. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky estimates at least 137 Ukrainians have died as a result of the conflict already.

Even before the attacks broke out, the UN noted that in 2021, the crisis in Ukraine affected 1.5 million people—half a million of whom are children and minors.

The toll of the offensive on Ukranian families is something Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International's secretary-general, feared ahead of the invasion, noting previously in a statement, "It is frightening to imagine what scale the refugee crisis could reach in the event of escalating hostilities in Ukraine. It will be a continent-wide humanitarian disaster."

How to Talk to Kids About Russia's Invasion of Ukraine

If your child is asking about what they're seeing in the news, consider these expert tips:

For Children Under 7

Janine Domingues, a clinical psychologist at the nonprofit Child Mind Institute in New York, tells The Associated Press (AP), "It might just be acknowledging that something is happening between Ukraine and Russia and ask, 'Have you heard anything?' Take the child's lead."

Starting with what kids know and how they're feeling is imperative, according to Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist and anxiety specialist in Wilton, Connecticut. "Make sure that you are in a calm place, so that you can hear and focus on what they are expressing as well," she says.

For Kids of All Ages

Domingues tells AP that no matter how old your child is, you'll want to "provide reassurance that this is what we know right now." She explains, "Let them know you don't know all the answers."

You could also take a tip from Andrea Barbalich, editor-in-chief of The Week Junior, a weekly newsmagazine for kids ages 8-14 with 100,000 subscribers in all 50 states: "We're very calm in our tone, and we're selective in the facts that we present," she tells ABC. "We avoid very frightening and upsetting information and focus on the helpers wherever we can. Right now, for example, there are thousands of people around the world and many governments working together to stop the conflict and end the fighting. There are people on the ground who are helping people who are injured. There will be humanitarian aid for people who need it."

And Dr. Nick Hatzis of the outpatient mental health care facility Compass Health Center in Chicago, tells ABC that the most important step for parents is to "create a space that allows for listening."

Here are several ways you and your family can help.

1. Donate to UNICEF

UNICEF is a United Nations agency responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide charity. They are currently supporting health, nutrition, HIV prevention, education, safe drinking water, sanitation and protection for children and families caught in the conflict in Ukraine.

The agency points out that "children and families in eastern Ukraine have long been suffering the effects of armed conflict, and political and social unrest."You can donate here.

2. Support Doctors Without Borders

The global organization working with local volunteers, organizations, health care professionals, and authorities to help Ukranians get health care facilities and obtain prescriptions. They're also continuing to fight COVID-19 in the region. You can support their efforts by:

3. Donate to Save the Children

Since 2014, Save the Children notes that they've responded to the building conflict in eastern Ukraine by supporting the basic needs of the most vulnerable families, proving food, shelter, coal, multi-purpose cash grants, clothing, and medicine. And in 2019, the organziation launched a project focused on supporting children with disabilities and promoting inclusiveness in the east of Ukraine.

In a statement released this week, Save the Children notes, "Children will bear the brunt of a significant escalation in fighting in Ukraine, with injuries and deaths likely in the worst-case scenario."

To support their efforts, you can donate to their Children's Emergency Fund.

4. Support Voices of Children

This Ukraine-based organization helps provide psychological and psychosocial support to children affected by the armed conflict, according to its website. They do so through art therapy, video storytelling, providing mobile psychologists, and offering individual help to families.

Donate here.

5. Give to Nova Ukraine

Nova Ukraine is a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about Ukraine in the U.S. and throughout the world and providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine. One of their efforts, Heart2Heart, assembles and delivers aid packages to the country.

The organization, based in San Francisco Bay Area, is looking for donated clothes, shoes, household supplies, personal hygiene products, baby food (with an expiration date of not less than six months from date of purchase), diapers and medicine. They're especially in need of shoes and clothing for children and will also accept wheelchairs, anti-decubitus pillows, and personal hygiene items for wounded soldiers.

You can join their Volunteers Group on Facebook or donate funds.

6. Give to OutRight International

OutRight International is working to make sure LGBTQ+ groups and organizations on the ground in Ukraine are protected in this time of crisis.

You can donate here and also sign up to OutRight's newsletter here to stay up to date on the crisis and how it is affecting LGBTQ+ Ukrainians.

7. Support Hromada and Anhelyk

Anhelyk, which means "angel" in Ukranian, is a San Francisco-based organization that supports the children of families whose parents died in the fighting in eastern Ukraine. They provide funds to these families as well as college scholarships.Monetary donations are accepted through Paypal or through the organization's website.

8. Give to the International Red Cross (ICRC)

In Ukraine, the ICRC is helping people affected by the conflict and is supporting the work of the Ukrainian Red Cross. Donations will go toward helping repair homes or infrastructure such as water pumping stations and providing mental health and educational services.

You can donate here.

9. Support Journalism

Global Citizen recommends donating to two organizations focused on independent journalism in Ukraine:

  • The Kyiv Independent: This outlet was "created by journalists who were fired from the Kyiv Post for defending editorial independence." Support the independent Ukrainian English-language media outlet by donating to its Patreon or GoFundMe fundraiser.
  • Ukraine World: This is an independent English-language multimedia project that emerged from a volunteer initiative helping international journalists during the 2014 "Revolution of Dignity." You can support them by donating to their Patreon.

10. Stand Up for Peace at a Protest

If you and your kids want to make your voice heard on the crisis, you can meet up with demonstrators around the globe as they take to the streets. Find your nearest demonstration here.

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