21 February 2024 - Ukraine


girl attending an online class using her smart phone

Anna*, 12, studies math on a smartphone during online classes at her home in Kherson region, Ukraine. Credit: Oleksandr Khomenko/Save the Children

KYIV, 21 February 2024 – As the war in Ukraine enters its third year, around 630,000 children – over 1 in 12 of the total pre-war child population – who were displaced have returned home to face extreme needs relating to their family's livelihoods, health, and threats to their safety, according to new analysis by Save the Children.

Save the Children analysed data from the most recent needs assessment by humanitarian data centre REACH and from the IOM to calculate the number of children in Ukraine who were displaced either overseas or domestically and returned home, only to face further poverty and suffering. 

The analysis found that the majority of returnee children have been pushed into ‘extreme need’, as they return to damaged homes and infrastructure – and are 62% more likely to experience extreme need compared to the rest of the population. “Extreme need” is the second highest need categorisation in the assessment, referring to a collapse of living standards with the risk of significant harm to physical or mental well-being.

In the two years since the conflict in Ukraine escalated on 24 February 2022, millions of people have fled to safety, with over 15 million people fleeing their homes in what was the fastest growing displacement crisis in Europe since World War II. Still now, 6.3 million people from Ukraine are refugees overseas and 3.7 million people remain displaced within the country.

Two years on, despite the war continuing and airstrikes and explosions a daily reality, over 4.5 million people who experienced displacement have returned home, including 1.1 million children. Of these children, over 600,000 have returned to situations of poverty and danger, with around 360,000 returning to the war-affected and frontline regions, including Dnipro, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Odesa and Sumy, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). 

Maryna*, 39, from Kherson, fled with her family to a village near Mykolaiv in September 2022. When the family returned home to a village in Kherson region, the windows were blown out, and Maryna’s husband had lost his livelihood as the result of landmines, Maryna said: 

“The land was more or less okay, but the house was destroyed.

“When we returned here, there was no job at all because everything around was mined. Come summer they started to repair machinery that (was) left...so he (my husband) was paid a little hourly. Now, in winter, he has no job and nobody knows if there will be one in spring because the farmlands have not been demined.”

Being displaced can take a psychological toll on children and their families, as they leave loved ones and everything that is familiar behind.

Maryna’s daughter Anna*, 12, was keen to return home to Kherson, she said:

“People say, East or West – home is best. [The village where we stayed] was a much better and more well-kept place. You might have seen that we have nothing here. But home feels much better.

“We have cats and dogs here, she missed them a lot. And also, her grandma and grandpa.”

Many children return home to find their schools are closed due to the conflict. Anna* only attends online classes and it's too dangerous to play outside, due to regular shelling. Anna said:

“I would really like to study at school, somehow, but not online. To talk to teachers at school, to children - so that there is communication, friends after all. My friend lives far away, I would like to talk to her. I do talk to her anyway, but I would like to talk to her in-person.”

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

“Children in Ukraine have endured two long years of violence and destruction. Many families have been forced to leave their homes in search of safety, and now opted to return as soon as it became available to do so. For them, no place is like their home, and we must respect their will to be where they belong.

“Going into the third year of full-scale war response, our focus shifts to helping war-affected communities to rebuild and recover, so that families have tools to get their lives back on track, and children can be children – learn, play, and laugh together with their friends – despite the atrocities that surround them.”

Save the Children calls on all warring parties in Ukraine to protect civilians and stop using explosive weapons in populated areas. There must be full and unhindered humanitarian access to families caught up in crisis, including those in war-affected areas.

Save the Children has been working in Ukraine since 2014 and has scaled up operations since the war escalated in February 2022. The organisation is working closely with multiple partners to provide life-saving assistance such as food and water, cash transfers, and safe spaces, to make sure children and families impacted by this crisis have the support they need.

Ends -

*Names changed to protect identity


  • Save the Children used the latest data on returnees at a country level as per the IOM General Population Survey Round 15 Returns Report, applying a child share of 25% provided by IOM to estimate that some 1.1 million returnees are under 18. The share of these children deemed to be in at least “extreme need” was obtained by applying data from the July 2023 country-wide household assessment by REACH that found that 57% of returnees are in extreme need. Applying the REACH finding to the returnee population figure suggests that some 630,000 children have needs that are “extreme” or "extreme +”.
  • REACH defines extreme needs as a collapse of living standards, with a risk of significant harm to physical or mental well-being.
  • Save the Children calculated the number of children who had returned oblasts in the south and east of Ukraine, the frontline of the fighting. Data was not however, available at a level more granular than oblast. IOM does not have returns data for the Crimean peninsula,  Luhanska, Donetska, Khersonska and Zaporizka.

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