Hope on hold for Ukraine’s school children
After eight months of violence in Ukraine, school children are losing hope for the future.
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The sound of a piano drifts through the ruins of a school corridor, its sad melody filling the empty classrooms. This was once a place of hope and safety. Now, after months of violence in Ukraine, there is nothing left but a crumbling, empty shell.
Sixteen-year-old Daryna is putting all of her sorrow and pain into the music she is playing on this piano, which miraculously survived the recent rocket attack on the school. She was supposed to play it at her prom, but the war snatched away any hope of celebration.
As she tenderly strikes the keys, the sounds of shells and gunfire still ring out from the suburbs of the city of Selidove in eastern Ukraine.
“All of a sudden, this all just disappeared”
Over the last eight months, the full-scale war in Ukraine has left millions of Ukrainian children like Daryna without access to education, safety and a happy childhood. School No.2 in Selidove was destroyed at the beginning of the fall in a missile attack. Six hundred children and their teachers now no longer have a school.
Daryna says it feels as though the missiles not only destroyed her school, but also all her childhood memories.
"This place was my second home. I was here even more often than at home. And all of a sudden, this all just disappeared.”
Selidove is a small industrial city in eastern Ukraine that has suffered for the last eight years due to shelling and devastation. But since February 24, the humanitarian and security situation has escalated, leaving the city without permanent water supply, heating or gas. Most shops and pharmacies have now closed down, and parts of residential buildings and infrastructure lie in ruins.
"We are not living our full life,” says Daryna, who often wakes up at night because of the shelling. “The city feels gripped by the anticipation of something bad, a disaster. The last seven months were really tough, as stores were closed and we were stuck at home. Many friends of mine are leaving, but I just don't know what to do and feel panicked.”
The youngster once dreamed of her prom, a beautiful gown and an honor certificate, but now all she can do is help to sweep debris from the classrooms where she has studied for the last 10 years. She hopes her school will be rebuilt soon.
"I wasn't ready to come to the school at first, as I was afraid that there could be unexploded ordnance,” says Daryna. “But I want to help clean it at least. This school means a lot for our family because I'm studying here, my mom graduated from this school here and now my younger sister Masha, a fourth-grader, is studying here as well. And what is she supposed to do now?"
“I wanted to cry, but I realized I didn't have time”
On the night of the attack on Selidove’s school, the home of 16-year-old Anastasia was also caught up in the rocket fire. The teenager remembers waking up, her body trembling.
"I wanted to cry, but I realized I didn't have time for that, because I had to calm down my mom and younger brother. Mom became hysterical.”
"I just sat down behind the couch and covered my head with my hands. I thought we would be hit because the second explosion was very loud.
The next morning, Anastasia looked out of the window and saw the ruins of her school.
"There used to be a school here, but now it looks like this,” she says. “Emptiness. I am really sad that this happened. I have a lot of memories, and now I come here and there is nothing left, all these moments with friends just disappeared.”
She had less than a year left of school, and then had plans to travel and study law.
"The war changed all the plans, everyone moved away and I was left alone,” says Anastasia. “It hurts my mental health a lot.”
Anastasia was always impatiently waiting for the winter holidays to take a break from studying, but now all she dreams of is returning to her class. However, the ongoing shelling near the school continues to shatter her hopes.
The new academic year in Ukraine began on 1 September and, amid intensified fighting in the east of Ukraine and shelling in almost all regions of the country, educational facilities have resumed classes in various formats. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) initiative "Back to Learning Together" works to support the educational process.
This initiative was launched by the Ministry of Education and Science, in cooperation with UNICEF in Ukraine and the First Lady of Ukraine. It aims to support the educational process in the 2022/2023 academic year, protect the rights of every child and create opportunities for continuous schooling. Within the framework of the initiative, the Ministry of Education and Culture together with UNICEF will help children adjust to the educational process, and strive to improve their physical and mental health.
The key goals of the initiative include support for schools, teachers, parents and children, depending on the learning format.
Interactive materials for parents and educators on psychosocial support, mine safety and healthy nutrition can be downloaded on osvitanow.org. They will be sent separately to schools that will work in an offline format.