Making schools safer for Ukraine’s children
Despite the ongoing war in Ukraine, eight-year-old Ivanka has hope for the future
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Every time the air raid siren sounds in Zhytomyr, eight-year-old Ivanka has to try to calm herself down. If it happens while she is at school, she knows exactly what to do – look for her teacher and friends, so that they can all go down to the basement together.
The school basement, which serves as a bomb shelter, was recently repaired. Here, at least, Ivanka and her friends can distract themselves from the horrors outside with colouring books and keep warm with blankets that hang on the chairs.
"A missile may hit the building, that's why it is safer here,” says Ivanka. “I live on the sixth floor and if it was hit, it would be ruined.”
Education under attack
Ivanka’s school in Zhytomyr was completely destroyed by hostilities in early March. What was supposed to be a safe and protected place now lies in ruins.
"My school was ruined during the war,” says the third-grader. “Ruined for no reason. I want to go back there again because I had been studying there since the first grade.”
After the attack, the school moved to another building, but, as the violence escalated, school director Ivan Denysyuk knew a fully-equipped bomb shelter would be crucial.
“The availability of a shelter was our main requirement for the building," says Denysyuk. “In a very short time, literally during summer, we managed to repair this shelter with support from UNICEF. From now on, children can attend school because we have organized safe conditions.”
The rebuilding and equipping of school shelters by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) became possible thanks to the support of partners including the European Union and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Building a better future
As the shells explode above ground, Ivanka and the entire third grade are singing Ukrainian songs in the school shelter.
"When I hear an air alarm, I stand together with other classmates and listen to what our teacher says,” says Ivanka. “Then we go to the shelter. There we continue the lesson or just sit quietly, chat, draw, waiting for the moment when an air alarm ends.”
Despite the ongoing violence, Ivanka would rather attend school in person, than study online.
"I love school. This is my second home. It's always interesting here: I learn new skills, and something is always going on here. While studying online you're just stuck at the same place for a whole day, first listening to the lessons and then doing your homework.”
To ensure safe conditions at school for children like Ivanka, UNICEF and partners are working hard to facilitate shelters and repairs in the most war-affected territories. So far, 56 facilities have been renovated as part of the programme. UNICEF also provides school shelters with equipment, games and activity sets for children.
"With UNICEF's support, we have some equipment for our shelter,” says Iryna Andrushko, Ivanka’s teacher. “Like these blankets in case it gets colder. We also have boxes for children's psychological relief. There are felt-tip pens, balls, plasticine and board games, so that children can be entertained. Lately, air raid sirens have occurred in the afternoon, when we have extended day group classes, so these games are helpful every time.”
War has become an integral part of life for Ukraine’s school children. But, every morning, while packing her backpack for school, little Ivanka from Zhytomyr hopes for a peaceful day without any air raid sirens or attacks while she forges a happier future.
"I really want peace to come, and my family to feel warmth and love,” says the youngster. “So now I am working on my knowledge. This is my frontline fight.”