This week a generation of children saw war in Europe for the first time. Children in England will be acutely aware that on the other side of Europe a country full of children just like them will be waking up and going to school in fear.
War in Europe is an experience that has shaped generations before, from the ‘baby boomers’ growing up in the aftermath of World War Two to the ‘millennials’ who watched the siege of Sarajevo on BBC Newsround. We all hoped this spectre had been consigned to history.
Children today are a generation who feel connected across the world through social media. Whether it is through the Champions League, the Eurovision Song Contest or parkour videos on YouTube, children in England and Ukraine have a set of shared experiences and cultural reference points.
Having worked with children for 30-years, I know how keenly children will feel this. If there is one thing that came out of the Big Ask survey I ran last year, it is that children care passionately about the world around them, especially other children.
We should not hide what is happening, but support children in understanding it. We must remember that children can find solace in being part of a wider community that is comprehending and responding to these events.
Children can use these experiences to find their voice and become empowered members of society.
Growing up in Scunthorpe, my first civic act was writing – in Ukrainian – a letter to the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher about jailed Ukrainian dissident Valentyn Moroz who I had learnt about from my Ukrainian grandfather.
Her response – also in Ukrainian – made me feel that my actions could count, and six months later he was free!
I hope today that a generation of children will be able to feel similarly empowered by showing their support for the children of Ukraine.
They might want to write to their MP or to the Ukrainian Embassy, children may want to use art or music to express their feelings.
I have today reached out to my Ukrainian counterpart to let him know that the thoughts of England’s children are with the children of Ukraine, and I want to use this opportunity to send them a direct message:
діти Англії думають про вас (the children of England are thinking of you)