After horrors of war, Ukrainian children yearn for school
Children in Horenka recall the horrors of war and hope for a return to school.
After months of war, not all Ukrainian schools will open their doors to children on 1 September. One of them is the school in Horenka, a small village in the Kyiv region, which became part of the front line in February 2022 and was heavily damaged by shelling.
Today, the shattered building is a reminder of some of the most violent weeks of the war, when children had to separate from their families, grab the essentials and flee to safer places.
“We left in a panic, it was very scary, but we had to,” says 10-year-old Anya. “If we had stayed home longer, we would have been dead.
A shell ripped through the house just a few days after she and her family left.
“The war destroyed my house, which we had just built,” she says, sadly.
Anya hopes to go abroad with her mother, as she no longer feels safe in Horenka.
“Everything seems fine now, calm, but there are times when it's scary when an ordinary helicopter flies over,” she explains. “I try not to pay much attention to it and calm down. Pick up the phone and play some quiet games, just play with dolls or something else.”
Olena, who is mother to three girls – Lilya, Nelya and Lyuda – always keeps an emergency suitcase with her.
“The feeling of running away hasn't gone anywhere. It's horrible that nothing is in your control. If bombs and shells fall on your head, there's nothing you can do about it. It's one thing when you are alone and responsible for yourself, but it's another when you are responsible for three children.”
Sixteen-year-old Yana hid for two weeks in basements of various houses and left Horenka when it became impossible to stay. Her home – windows, doors and fences – was damaged amid the hostilities.
“War is a horror that breaks people's lives, their property gained over the years and their mental state”.
She recalls her old school building with sadness.
“I have studied there since the first grade,” she says. “Everything was so familiar when I used to go there. Now it's all gone.”
Despite the war, teachers in Horenka have not stopped teaching. They have continued to support children in bomb shelters and in other countries.
“Our class teacher would prepare food for the people in the shelter and, at the same time, she would give assignments and check the lessons,” says Olena. “It was a thin bridge to a peaceful life when assignments came from the teachers and homework had to be completed.”
Two of Olena’s daughters, Nelya and Lilya, would prefer to learn in school. One of their biggest dreams is to walk into their classroom and sit down to a lesson.
“We missed our teachers, our classmates, our school,” tell the girls.
Every child has the right to access quality education and a safe learning space. Education has a catalytic effect on children’s well-being, development and future prospects, as well as on peace, stability and economic development.
To ensure the safety of learning environments in Ukraine, UNICEF is helping to rebuild 50 education facilities in conflict-affected regions where it is safe to resume offline education. In addition, UNICEF is preparing guidelines on child-friendly shelters and is engaged in equipping bomb shelters with supplies at 1,000 schools across Ukraine. Another UNICEF priority is providing schools with activity packages for bomb shelters, including books on math and literacy.