Ukraine’s schools reopen after UNICEF helps to rebuild
Scores of children like Maria are overjoyed to return to their schools, which have been restored thanks to UNICEF and partners
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Over the last year, 13-year-old Maria's school in Irpin, Ukraine has changed dramatically. Now, thanks to help from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), it has gone from being a war-ravaged pile of bricks and broken glass, to a modern learning space.
As part of its EUR 4.8 million reconstruction of the school, UNICEF has also built a safe and comfortable air raid shelter for the teachers and children.
"Sometimes, I thought that my school would be closed forever, but now I'm proud to see it beautiful and comfortable"
“The shelter in our school is amazing”
After over a year of war, the seventh grader still needs to adapt her schedule to the fighting. When the Kyivska region is under threat of shelling, Maria stays at home, but when the air raid siren sounds at school she goes down to the new shelter for classes.
"The war has been going on for a year now, so we don't ignore air raids,” says the youngster. “We go down to the shelter and wait until the air alert is over.”
The renovated school shelter is equipped with tables and benches for studying, board games, modelling clay, toys, soft blankets, futons and a generator to keep it light and warm. It has been built as part of UNICEF’s partnership with the European Union and Government of Ukraine to ensure that every child has the opportunity to return to safe education.
Maria recalls that many of the children were afraid on their first visit to the shelter. But, very soon, the place became associated with safety and communication.
"Air alerts occur pretty often. When we go down, at first we all panic, but then we calm down, so we just communicate and play. In comparison with other schools, the shelter in our school is amazing as we always have something to do.”
“Not a single corner of the city is safe”
After the initial hostilities in the Kyiv region subsided, families fleeing the shelling returned to the city. Others came from areas where the fighting is still ongoing. As a result, the number of students at Maria’s school has increased, from 2,000 to over 3,000.
To ensure that the children are protected from attacks, the school fortified part of the first floor by filling in the windows with concrete blocks.
"Behind these blocks, there are the windows of our school. The blocks aim to protect students from attacks. Before 24 February, I never would have thought that it could be dangerous in school. There are teachers, friends. I had always felt safe here.”
Thanks to the renovation, Maria can at least attend face-to-face lessons instead of studying online.
"Because of the war, my school was almost completely destroyed. When you find out about such things, you get really worried. I was anxious that I wouldn't be able to go to the school which I love very much again, I was very used to it. I really wanted to come back, to see my classmates, teachers, even those I didn't like very much before the war.”
At the beginning of the full-scale war, Maria and her family fled the city of Irpin. When they returned, she was thrilled to watch the school being rebuilt. She only wishes that her home city could be rebuilt in the same way.
"Before the war, Irpin was a wonderful, green, beautiful city. But unfortunately, the war continues, and not a single corner of the city is safe anymore, because there are mines, broken buildings and the shelling continues.”
Providing a safe environment
Today, some 5.3 million children in Ukraine face obstacles to education, including 3.6 million children directly affected by school closures.
With financial support from the European Union, UNICEF has already reopened 24 educational institutions, including the construction of shelters where children and teachers can continue classes during air raids. Having a school shelter is now a prerequisite for face-to-face learning in Ukraine. The shelters that UNICEF is rehabilitating are child-friendly and safe spaces that provide a sense of comfort for more than 15,900 students.
"UNICEF is working in Ukraine to protect the rights of children, to provide them access to a safe environment, basic services, education and health care,” says Vira Mendonsa, Deputy Representative of UNICEF Ukraine. “UNICEF supports education in different formats, both online and offline. Because many schools are damaged, only 25 per cent of Ukrainian schools can continue face-to-face education and the majority of schools study online.”
UNICEF is also training Ukrainian teachers to support children's mental health, which has been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and now the war.
By September 2023, UNICEF plans to rebuild 80 schools and kindergartens, where more than 28,000 girls and boys will have access to full-time education in the new academic year.