Ukrainian students push aside fears to prepare for prom
Students at a school in Sumy have been rehearsing waltzes for their prom, which they hope will take place despite the ongoing shelling
Everyone in the hall of Sumy School No. 24 seems nervous today. But it is not the shelling or air raids – these eleventh-graders are rehearsing the prom waltz for the first time.
Teachers and parents have been discussing whether to hold the school prom at all, given the security situation in the city. In the end, they have decided that after a difficult year, the children deserve a celebration. But the rehearsal is constantly interrupted by air raids.
"It's the eighth air raid today," says 17-year-old Andriy. "It's hard to focus on the dance moves when you have to stop and go wait it out.”
Because there is no shelter in the school, the children must take cover in a windowless corridor and wait until they can return to rehearsal.
“We have lost a lot”
Andriy says that it has been a difficult year for his classmates.
"We have lost a lot since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. And for me, the biggest losses are not only educational. I lost opportunities to communicate, I lost my youth"
For two years, to keep the children and teachers safe, Andriy’s school ran classes online – at first, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and then due to the shelling and power outages.
This year, Sumy School No. 24 was finally able to switch to a mixed form of education. However, since there are not enough shelters at the school, the children must study from home for one day per week, and classes run in alternating shifts.
But despite these challenges, the children are overjoyed to be able to return to face-to-face education and socialise once more.
"I remember when the children returned to school,” says Svitlana, the school’s headteacher. “They were running, laughing and hugging. It was such unadulterated pure joy! It was worth reopening the school just for that.”
“I wondered if there would be anything left”
Last year, student Vladyslava was worried that she would have no school to return to:
"I wondered if there would be anything left of my school or city. War has changed our dreams a lot. It's hard to plan where you will study or what you will do when you don't know if you will wake up tomorrow.”
Vladyslava and Andriy have been rehearsing their prom waltz. There are only a few days left until the prom, and the students want things to be perfect.
"One of the students in our class lost his father in the war,” says Andriy. “Also this year, one of our teachers died. All these losses are painful for all of us. But we decided that we had to hold a graduation ceremony. To remind ourselves and our teachers that life still goes on. And such an event happens only once in a lifetime.”
"We really hope that shelling or air alarms will not spoil our celebration,” he adds.
Approximately 5.3 million Ukrainian children face barriers to education, including about 3.6 million directly affected by school closures. As a result, children in Ukraine are at risk of missing out on critical years of learning and social development. To ensure continuity of education for every child in wartime, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has expanded its support programmes for children in Ukraine since the beginning of the war. In particular, UNICEF is setting up shelters in kindergartens and schools, and providing laptops, tablets and educational materials to teachers and students, so that children and educators can continue learning and teaching both face-to-face and online.