In eastern Ukraine, children return to schools in ruins
In the city of Lyman, children are returning to school after months spent in isolation
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Lyman is a recently liberated city in eastern Ukraine, located near the frontline. Since the outbreak of the full-scale war in February 2022, 85 per cent of the housing stock has been destroyed, all 19 schools have been damaged, and not one of 14 kindergartens has survived. Residents in many areas of the city have not had electricity, mobile phone service or internet for over six months. And still, the shelling continues.
The people who live here, including over 500 children, are used to the daily explosions. Since one of Lyman’s schools reopened in November 2022, the students have been making the most of the two potbelly stoves, a Starlink satellite system and an electric generator.
“The kids have changed a lot”
"Many families lost their homes and properties, as well as their phones,” says Olha, who is the school’s only remaining teacher. “The city is almost completely destroyed. Each child in this class experienced some loss. Often, they do not have gadgets or money to buy them.”
A single classroom, the only one to survive the violence, accommodates both elementary and high school students. Every morning, Olha hands over her laptop and smartphone to the youngsters to help them study.
Olha was unable to leave the city because her relatives needed special care. Now, the school has become a source of joy and stability for both her and her students.
"When we decided to restore education, we had to look for these children in basements or their homes, because there was no mobile connection,” explains Olha. “We were trying to take them away from isolation and provide them with at least some access to education and communication."
Olha remembers how happy the children were to return to their school desks after months spent hiding in dark bomb shelters.
"During the war, the kids have changed a lot, realising that they can provide support for their parents and close circles, both in everyday life and emotionally,” she says. “I don't feel our age difference anymore.”
“The situation was so hard”
Oleksandr is only 17. He dreams about becoming a sailor and graduating from university in Odesa. This year, he will need to take a national multi-subject test. But for the last seven months, he has been living without electricity, a phone and the internet.
"I'm afraid I will not be able to pass this test,” says Oleksandr. “Due to the hostilities, I wasn’t studying at all for a long time. The situation was so hard that I don't even want to recall it.”
His school is also the only place where he can read the news, chat with friends who have left the city and communicate with his peers.
"There is still no electricity on my street. So here, at school, I can charge my phone from the battery and get online. But I really want to go back to a normal school.”
The school’s single classroom is the only lighted and heated room in the building. On their breaks, children avoid going out into the corridor with its boarded-up windows and the remains of the damaged furniture from their classrooms.
And there is still reason to be afraid. Since 24 February of 2022, 17 children have been injured in the violence in Lyman, five of whom died.
"Children have paid a huge price for understanding the value of education," says Olha, sadly. "Before, they had the right to education just like that, but now they have to earn it."