UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 17 (Xinhua) -- As the conflict in eastern Ukraine enters its fourth year, about 1 million children are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, nearly double the number this time last year, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday.
The increase -- an additional 420,000 girls and boys -- is due to the continued fighting and the steady deterioration of life in eastern Ukraine, the UN agency said in a press release.
Some 1.7 million people have been internally displaced as a result of the conflict, and many families have lost their incomes, social benefits and access to healthcare, while the price of living has sharply risen, UNICEF said.
Giovanna Barberis, UNICEF representative in Ukraine, warned that this is "an invisible emergency," a crisis most of the world has forgotten. "Children in eastern Ukraine have been living under the constant threat of unpredictable fighting and shelling for the past three years."
"Their schools have been destroyed, they have been forced from their homes and their access to basic commodities like heat and water has been cut off," Barberis said.
Hundreds of daily ceasefire violations put children's physical safety and psychological well-being at risk. The situation is particularly grave for the approximately 200,000 girls and boys living within 15 kilometers on each side of the "contact line" in eastern Ukraine, a line which divides government and non-government controlled areas where fighting is most severe.
In this zone, 19,000 children face constant danger from landmines and other unexploded ordinance and 12,000 children live in communities shelled at least once a month. Thousands of children are regularly forced to take refuge in improvised bomb shelters.
Teachers, psychologists and parents report signs of severe psychosocial distress among children including nightmares, aggression, social withdrawal and panic triggered by loud noises.
More than 740 schools -- one in five in eastern Ukraine -- have been damaged or destroyed.
UNICEF once again called for all sides to immediately recommit to the ceasefire signed in Minsk in August 2015 and to respect international humanitarian law, including allowing unrestricted humanitarian access.
"After three horrific years, children in eastern Ukraine urgently need lasting peace, so that their unnecessary suffering ends," said Barberis.
UNICEF is appealing for 31.3 million U.S. dollars to provide health and nutrition support, education, clean water, hygiene and sanitation as well as protection for children and families affected by the conflict. So far, approximately 10 percent of the appeal has been funded.
According to the UN estimates, the conflict between government troops and pro-independence insurgents, which rages in eastern Ukraine since April 2014, left some 3.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.