Orlando Bloom: No one should have to live through this

Story highlights

  • Orlando Bloom visited schools in eastern Ukraine in April
  • Families there have endured terrible experiences during the conflict, he says

Orlando Bloom is an English film and stage actor. He was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in October 2009. He recently traveled to conflict-torn eastern Ukraine, where UNICEF says an estimated 580,000 children are in urgent need of aid. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN)April 27, 2016: We wake up early and travel by car for three hours from Kharkiv, a city in eastern Ukraine, toward the zone worst affected by the conflict in the country. Miles of black, fertile farmland stretch long and flat outside the window, framed by vivid green grass and puffs of trees. It is difficult to imagine that we could be approaching a conflict zone.

We arrive at School 13 in Slavyansk, one of the first schools to be hit during the fighting. One quiet spring day, a shell crashed into the roof of the school theater. A generation of children who had never known fighting were suddenly under fire. In shock, they ran screaming into the school basement, where teachers attempted to calm them. I can't imagine what I would have done in their place -- one minute you are sitting in class on a normal school day, the next the world is falling down around you.
    Orlando Bloom
    It is clear that, nearly two years on, the conflict is far from over. Around 580,000 children are in desperate need of aid, while about 300,000 need support to continue their education. Around one-in-five schools and kindergartens is damaged or destroyed. The neighboring areas, like here in Slavyansk, are flooded with children who have fled the active conflict zone -- more than 230,000 have been forced from their homes in total.
      Every child has been through a terrible experience -- they have witnessed explosions and destruction, they have lost their homes, some of them have lost family -- all have lost their routines. One of them is 9-year-old Gleb, who told me what happened to him when his school was hit at the height of the fighting. As a father of a 5-year-old boy myself, it is hard to hear what he went through.
      "My friends and I were going to get ice cream when a shell flew over our heads," he told me. "I heard 'boom, boom' and that was the shell that hit our school. A second shell exploded over our heads and we saw the bits and pieces falling on the ground all around us."
      Gleb ran home to his mother and took shelter in the basement.
      "Everyone was hiding in bomb shelters in basements," he tells me. All of my friends left. My mother and I went to another city as soon as we could to get away from the fighting."
      What does an experience like that do to a child? No one should ever have to live through this.
      In the panic of conflict, people think of the basics: Get to cover as fast as you can; save your life. But recovery is a more complex picture. When conflict hit this area, one of UNICEF's first priorities was to help get children back to learning. After all, experience shows that education is critical in times of emergencies, and it should be part of a basic humanitarian response -- alongside providing food, water and shelter.
      When you read the statistics, it is easy to understand why. Nearly a