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Sirens and bomb shelters: Going to school in eastern Ukraine

UNICEF Image: School children in eastern Ukraine receive UNICEF education supplies
© UNICEF Ukraine/2017/Mahniboroda
Dima and Yullia, both 14, admire the contents of their newly received backpacks. UNICEF has distributed 1,000 backpacks filled with education supplies to children in the conflict affected eastern Ukraine.

As the conflict in eastern Ukraine enters its fourth year, children continue to live under constant threat of shelling. More than 740 schools – one in five across the conflict affected area – have been damaged or destroyed. UNICEF is working to protect children’s access to education by rehabilitating schools and providing educational supplies.

By Kusali Nellie Kubwalo

AVDIIVKA, Ukraine, 16 March 2017 – The bell rings and the whole class visibly tenses. A moment passes and everyone relaxes, the bell is just marking the end of a lesson. Three rings would have meant time to take cover.

“We do not actually have a bomb shelter, so the children have to hide under their desks or run to the corridor – the only place within the school that has no windows and which would protect them from the constant shelling around us,” says Liudmyla Golub, the deputy head of school number 6 in Avdiivka.

>> See the photo essay "In harm's way" on Medium

UNICEF Image: Deputy head of a school in eastern Ukraine showing where children take shelter during shelling
© UNICEF Ukraine/2017/Mahniboroda
The deputy head of Avdviika school number 6 shows us where the children hide when there is shelling. The school does not have a proper bomb shelter and uses this corridor as a safe space for children. When full, some children hide under the desk.

Under constant threat

Largely unreported, the conflict in eastern Ukraine is now in its fourth year and children continue to suffer the consequences.

Children in Avdiivka live along “the contact line” that separates government and non-government controlled areas. At least 250,000 children live on both sides of this line and their physical safety and psychological well-being is constantly under threat. Daily life is hard, many spend at least five hours a week in bomb shelters.

“Thank God we have not been shelled or damaged but others have not been so lucky. When the fighting intensified we had to close [the school] for a while,” says Golub.

The fighting damaged electricity and water infrastructure supplying the town. More than 17,000 people – including 2,500 children – were left without any heating, electricity or water.

Now school number 6 is open again and offers children the only predictable, normal and safe space in their daily life.

More than 740 schools – one in five across the conflict affected area – have been damaged or destroyed. Many schools have had to make bomb shelters or, like school number 6, improvise to keep children safe.

“We like coming to school, but the shelling scares us. What we need are blankets so we can cover ourselves when we are hiding from the shelling. And peace – we need peace,” says 15-year-old Yullia, opening her newly received UNICEF school backpack.

The school principal agrees with Yullia, saying the only thing that would make a difference to their lives is peace. “It is not easy for the children and we have to be strong for them. We wish there was peace. We wish all this fighting stopped, it is very hard for the children.”

UNICEF Image: UNICEF staff member brings education supplies into a school in eastern Ukraine
© UNICEF Ukraine/2017/Mahniboroda
A UNICEF staff member unloads backpacks from the car to distribute to students in school number 6 in Avdviika.

Protecting children’s access to education

UNICEF is working to protect these children’s access to education, despite the ongoing conflict, by rehabilitating schools and providing education supplies.

Fifty schools have been rehabilitated so far and 150,000 girls and boys have received education materials.

UNICEF has also provided 207,000 children and their caregivers with psychosocial support to help them cope with the stress of living through conflict and, in many cases, displacement.

But the situation remains dire. UNICEF is appealing for US$30.3 million to provide health and nutrition support, education, clean water, hygiene and sanitation, as well as protection for children and families affected by the conflict.

Find out more about the humanitarian needs of children in Ukraine



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