Back to school for Ukraine’s students as war continues
Students at a school in the Mykolaivska region are looking forward to returning to school, thanks to repair work and the support of UNICEF
Before Valentyna’s school can reopen to students in September, repairs must be made to the basement, which has been acting as a bomb shelter for children and local residents since the beginning of the full-scale war in Ukraine last February.
“Without a school, there will be no village,” explains the smiling headteacher, “but without a shelter, there will be no school.”
Valentyna is the director of a lyceum in Lupareve in the Mykolaivska region, which has been partially destroyed by rocket fire. Now, with the support of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), repair work is underway to ensure that the children will have a safe and comfortable educational space this school year.
The works have come just in time – a few months ago, families began to return to Lupareve village. They all started asking Valentyna if the school would open in September.
“Children need communication, knowledge and socialization,” says Valentyna. “They can get all this at school. But only if school provides a safe place.”
“Everyone was scared”
Fourteen-year-old Oksana has not seen her classmates in person for more than a year and a half. After the war escalated on 24 February 2022, all classes were cancelled. That day, she did go to school, but only to hide from shelling in the basement with other villagers.
“There were a lot of people in the shelter at the time, around 50,” says the teenager. “Everyone was scared. It was dangerous and very loud outside. I was sitting in this cold, damp basement, and I couldn't believe that it was really happening, that a war had started.”
Since then, Oksana has associated the shelter with fear and cold. But she hopes that, after the renovation, it will be a safe and comfortable place.
“I still get scared when I think about going down to the shelter. But I know it will be completely redesigned. The basement will become just another classroom located underground because it's safe there.”
Last year, Oksana and her classmates used the internet to connect to the lessons from different regions of Ukraine. Each time one of them disappeared from the screen due to an air raid, Oksana and her friends worried.
“We would always ask the person who had an alarm during a lesson: ‘How are you? Are you alive? Are you okay?’”
“Online learning is harder. Some subjects I studied with a tutor, and some I did on my own in order not to miss the material. I really want to study full-time. I understand it can be dangerous when there are air alarms, but we will have a shelter to hide in. The main thing is that we will see each other and our teachers.”
“We all have the same dream”
This September, more than one hundred children will return to the lyceum in Lupareve.
“There will be a place in the shelter for every student,” says Valentyna.
Even now, although the village has become somewhat safer, air raids still occur several times a day. Locals are trying to adapt to the security situation and keep their lives going.
“We will practise the descent into the shelter so that it takes no more than two or three minutes,” the headteacher explains. “Therefore, the educational process will not be interrupted, so we can continue to study safely.”
“There will be desks and soft chairs. There will be good internet, whiteboards and everything students need. It will become a part of our learning space.”
Oksana hopes that the upcoming school year holds more promise than the last one.
“Now we all have the same dream that all the houses will stand, the whole village will live, the school will open and the war will end,” says the young girl.
The war has jeopardised education and the future of children in Ukraine. Around 5.3 million of them face obstacles to accessing education, including approximately 3.6 million directly affected by school closures. Thousands of schools were damaged and hundreds completely destroyed since the start of the full-scale war.
In addition, two out of three displaced children remain excluded from the national education systems of the countries hosting refugees from Ukraine.
All of this puts Ukrainian children at risk of losing critical years of education and social development.
This autumn, UNICEF, with the support of the European Union, plans to repair shelters in 80 schools and kindergartens across Ukraine, providing access to full-time education in the new school year for more than 50,000 girls and boys.