Ukraine’s children return to school after 18 months of violence
This September, Ukrainian school children finally returned to their desks after a year and a half of disrupted education due to the ongoing war
The new academic year has begun in Prylymansk, Ukraine. But this year, things are a little different – student numbers have soared, with ten first-grade classes starting at the school.
Amid the war, 4,500 internally displaced people have found sanctuary here in the Odeska region, including 796 school-age children. Many others are returning home. Now, more than ever, education is crucial for youngsters in Ukraine, but safety is paramount.
On the first day of school, Oleksandr and his 7-year-old son David are among those attending a safety briefing in the school’s fully-equipped bomb shelter.
"I feel that my son is safe in this school because I see how responsible the staff are. And I am really satisfied with the bomb shelter as it was made at the highest level”
David has been preparing for school for the whole summer and is looking forward to classes.
"I was learning how to write and read,” says the boy. “I want to study a lot of new things."
Seven-year-old Sofia, another first-grader, fled Crimea with her mother in 2014 and started over in the Odeska region. When the full-scale war broke out last February, their world turned upside down once more.
"The beginning of the war turned out to be a really tough time for us. Unfortunately, we're still processing it. This is just something that you can't get used to. I would sit and cry quietly. I cried and prayed for all of this to end"
Sofia is thrilled to be able to go to school.
"I love drawing animals the most,” she says. “Like Patron the dog, as well as other dogs, cats and snails. Drawing will be my favourite subject."
Sixteen-year-old Aryna will graduate from the school this year and is excited to finally see her classmates and teachers face-to-face.
"Before, we would mostly study online. When there was no electricity or connection, I would go to a temporary shelter to connect to the lessons online”
The students here know exactly what to do in case an air alarm occurs.
"When an air alarm sounds, we have to keep calm, collect our belongings and go to the shelter,” explains Aryna. “There, we have everything needed to continue lessons.”
This year, 1,800 students will study at the school in Prylymansk. Its bomb shelter has been restored by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and partners.
"Last year, we studied in a mixed format. Some of the students would connect online, while others came to the classes offline, since before the restoration, the school shelter didn't have enough space for everyone. Moreover, some parents couldn't let their children go to school for safety reasons.”
Classes will be organised into two shifts – primary school in the morning, and middle and high school in the afternoon.
"The one crucial thing about studying is communication between a child and a teacher,” adds Shavranska. “It's pretty tough to arrange during online lessons as some of the children are quiet, while others can't sit still, and it's difficult to hold the attention of the whole class. And it's really great that with the shelter restored by UNICEF, more children will be able to attend face-to-face lessons.”
Anatoliy Ihnatovych, UNICEF Education Coordinator in the Odeska and Mykolaivska regions, says that while children need quality education, there can be no compromise on safety.
"Today, we saw the happy eyes of children who came back to school,” says Ihnatovych. “In total, we support 12 schools in the Odeska and Mykolaivska regions. Part of them are undergoing renovation after being ruined due to shelling, the rest we are equipping with bomb shelters that have everything needed for education, including boards, desks, and chairs.”
In Ukraine, thousands of schools have been damaged and hundreds completely destroyed. Thanks to funding from the European Union (EU), UNICEF and partners are rebuilding education facilities and building and equipping shelters in schools and kindergartens. Since February 2022, UNICEF has supported access to formal and non-formal education for nearly 1.5 million of the most vulnerable children in Ukraine.