Ukraine – May 11 2022

Child-friendly space set up at Vienna Central Station

Together with Caritas, SOS Children's Villages Austria runs a day centre for refugees at Vienna’s main train station. A child-friendly space was set up on site. 

Caritas has launched a day centre in the Erste Group canteen in the Canetti Tower at Vienna Central Station to provide refugees from Ukraine with hot meals and a safe place to stay until they can continue their journey.  A child-friendly space supervised by SOS Children’s Villages Austria is part of the newly created centre.  

"The children arriving in Vienna have experienced a lot. They had to say goodbye to family members and leave their homes behind. They are afraid. Many are exhausted from the journey, the excitement and the uncertainty," says SOS Children's Villages Managing Director Nora Deinhammer.

"It is important to give children relief. They feel all the stress, fear and uncertainty in such a crisis situation. They are also worried about their parents, siblings and their future. That's why it's important to create a protective environment where children can process what they've experienced  in their own way. Children have the right to be children, even in a crisis like this," Ms Deinhammer says.

Parents who have fled Ukraine appreciate the atmosphere of normalcy in the child-friendly space. "In the last few days, we were constantly on the move. I am so happy that my daughter can play a little bit here. She missed her toys so much," says a mother of a 2-year-old girl. 

"It is so nice to just sit here and see my kids like this, laughing and playing. We really are very grateful for everything you are doing," adds another mother. 

SOS Children's Villages’ staff and trained volunteers are on site every day from 12:00 to 19:00. The child-friendly space offers toys and painting supplies in the children's corner and organizes activities for all age groups so that the children can feel comfortable and relax.  "My son loves to draw, but we lost all his pens on the way here and don't have any more paper. He is very happy to draw here and doesn’t want to leave anymore! I am very glad to see him smile," says one of the mothers. SOS Children’s Villages Austria estimates that 50-70 children are cared for in the child-friendly space every day. 

"The child-friendly space at the main station is an important step," Ms Deinhammer says. "It aims to give the exhausted, traumatized children a sense of security and bring their childhood back, at least for a short time. However, this is only the first step. For the long term, thousands of places in childcare settings, schools and kindergartens are needed.

"Psychological support is also needed for these children and young people. We need to quickly recognize the qualifications of Ukrainian professionals, such as educators, interpreters and caregivers. The challenges we are facing here are great. Important decisions on the part of the federal and state governments are called for," she says.

Pictures by Alexandra Terr Photography