20 September 2023 - Poland, Romania, Ukraine

Lost friends, pets, and futures: Ukrainian refugee children’s key worries, according to new report

girl sits at her school desk in Poland

Yana (name changed) aged 9, attends a Ukrainian school setup for refugee pupils from Ukraine in Warsaw. Credit Paul Wu/DEC

GENEVA, 20 Sept 2023: Ukrainian refugee children miss their family, friends, and pets, and worry about not knowing the local language and the future but they don’t want to return home until it is safe,  according to a new report by Save the Children and partner IMPACT Initiatives.

The report – Experiences, Needs and Aspirations of Children Adolescents and Caregivers Displaced from Ukraine includes the results of nearly 15,300 surveys with adult refugees living in 24 European countries, as well as consultations with 307 children and adolescents, 115 child caregivers, 33 host community members, and 34 child service providers in Poland and Romania.

The report found that most children and caregivers generally felt safe and welcomed in theirhostcountries, but they were missing life in Ukraine. About six million refugees from Ukraine – or about 14% of the population - were displaced across Europe as of mid-August 2023.

Separation from loved ones is affecting the well-being of many refugee children and caregivers.

Oksana* a secondary school pupil from Poland said:

"I wish grandpa and my dog were here. I miss my friends too."

Children said their main needs were more leisure time and better access to extra-curricular activities, especially sport.

Nataliia* a secondary school pupil from Romania said:

"I played football and practiced karate in Ukraine. I don't have such opportunities here."

The majority of families - about 87% - intended to stay in their current location in the short-term, mainly due to security reasons and better access to education, but most families planned on returning to Ukraine once the security situation allowed.

Limited employment opportunities combined with the cost-of-living crisis are also having an impact on Ukrainian refugees. The refugees surveyed spent 44% of their monthly expenses on food and drinks.

Denys*, a primary school pupil from Romania said:

“Most of all, Ukrainians are worried about finding a job. Because dad’s salary is not enough for the whole family. Mom is looking for a job every day. She has already been to many job interviews, but the salary is very small.”

The report found that most children and caregivers felt welcomed by the host communities.

Secondary school pupil Ilya*, Romania, said:

“If I had a problem I would talk to any neighbour in our street. I know all of them.”

However, some children in Romania and Poland report xenophobic remarks and bullying from children and adults in the host community.

Olena*, a secondary school pupil from Poland, added:

"In the tram, a boy spoke Ukrainian, and the Poles pulled him out of the tram, intimidated him, and took his phone."

Magdalena Rossmann, Regional Deputy Programme Development & Quality Director – Ukraine and Regional Refugee Response for Save the Children, said:

“The report provides a unique insight into the experiences of refugee children from Ukraine. Children are telling us that they generally feel safe and welcomed in their host communities, but that they also face emotional and practical challenges. They need access to extra-curricular activities, such as sport and music, which they can take part in alongside local children. It’s essential that host governments provide specialised support for low-income refugee families, so that no child is left behind.” 

Save the Children is supporting Ukrainian refugee children who are living in Europe by providing emergency cash assistance, education, child protection services and connecting refugee families with local services and local communities.

IMPACT Initiatives supports humanitarian action for Ukrainian refugees through data and information products, like its ongoing longitudinal study assessing the movement patterns, needs and aspirations of refugees. 


*All names changed to protect identities.

Quantitative data was collected between November 2022 and April 2023.

Qualitative interviews were conducted with children and adolescents, caregivers and host community members living in Poland and Romania between December 2022 and January 2023.

The assessment employed a mixed-methods approach, comprised of a longitudinal phone survey with refugees from Ukraine, in-person refugee children’s consultations, focus group discussions with refugee caregivers and host community members, as well as key informant interviews with child protection, health and education service providers in host countries.

For more information please contact:

For out of hours media requests please email media@savethechildren.org.uk or +44 (0) 7831 650409

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