Going the extra mile to ensure children learn

Meet this town's most famous teacher

Yulia Silina
72-year-old Maryna stands in the classroom of School No 7 in conflict-affected Avdiivka
UNICEF Ukraine/2017/Filippov

27 August 2018

Avdviika, Ukraine 27 September 2017 – Unarguably the most famous teacher in Avdviika, Maryna’s face stands proud on the wall of the building that has been most hit by shelling in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Australian artist Guido van Helten was the artist who painted her face as a mural on this wall after a long search for the most captivating character of Avdviika.

Maryna however was famous long before the mural went up in 2016. When the conflict started in eastern Ukraine in 2015, the 72-year-old decided to be more than just a teacher. She decided to adapt her lessons to suit her circumstances.

“Children are having a hard time these days, and I don’t want “studying” to be another burden for them. So, my classes are more fun, we sing Ukrainian songs in class, the lyrics of which are based on famous poems. It makes learning easier and poetry more interesting to the children,” she says.

72-year-old Maryna teaches class in conflict-affected Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine
UNICEF Ukraine/2017/Filippov
72-year-old Maryna teaches class in conflict-affected Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine.

Her classes at school number 7 in Avdviika are now smaller than they were. Most families have moved on, in search of safety and peace. Since the conflict started, at least 1.5 million people including over 220,000 children have been internally displaced in Ukraine. Maryna now combines several grades to make one class. She is very popular amongst the children because she supports their emotional struggles. She understands their pain especially as her husband was injured in one of the many shellings and is undergoing lengthy and costly treatment in Dnipro.

“These days, if children don’t show up in class, it doesn’t mean that they are just skipping classes. I understand that if there is shelling at night, in the morning some parents will be afraid to let their children come to school,” she says.

I also understand that sometimes children cannot do their homework at home, because of blackouts in the city.


When this happens, Maryna stays as late as 8 pm, marking assignments and preparing lessons for the following day. Most of the children stay behind too, to do their homework.

72-year-old Maryna stands in the classroom of School No 7 in conflict-affected Avdiivka
UNICEF Ukraine/2017/Filippov

Maryna believes that in addition to creating comfortable classrooms it is important to create a supportive environment for children at school. She adds that in Avdiivka the sound of shelling has sadly become an inseparable part of reality. “It has become something as normal as ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ for us. Of course, when the shelling gets heavier, you feel like you want to hide somewhere. It takes an emotional toll on you, especially on children,” she says.

Making sure education is uninterrupted

Maryna is one of the many teachers whose lives have been interrupted by the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Since the beginning of the conflict in May 2014, more than 740 schools have been damaged and 648,000 students and teachers are still affected by the conflict.

Every new attack on a school is an attack on education as it disrupts the learning process and increases their psychosocial needs. To support a safe and normal school environment, UNICEF is advocating for the adoption of the “Safe Schools Initiative,” as a crucial instrument to protect children’s right to education in safe schools during times of conflict. UNICEF is also advocating for the adoption of “The Safe Schools Declaration” which ensures that in conflicts, school facilities, teachers and students are safe from attack, ensuring continued access to education for all children. The Safe Schools Declaration was developed by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, an inter-agency coalition formed in 2010 to address the problem of targeted attacks on education during armed conflict.

Maryna's face painted by the Australian artist Guido van Helten on the shelled wall of the building in Avdiivka
UNICEF Ukraine/2017/Filippov

With support from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO), UNICEF has provided psychosocial support to over 60,000 conflict affected children in 2017.

UNICEF is also supporting continued access to education in the conflict-affected areas of Ukraine by rehabilitating damaged schools, providing furniture and education supplies. By June 2017, UNICEF had rehabilitated over 80 schools and Kindergartens and provided over 10,000 children in conflict areas with school supplies.

Maryna’s school, is one of the schools in Avdviika that has also benefitted from furniture, school supplies and water tanks. Maryna says although life has been very hard, the school makes all the difference for her and gives her the motivation to go on. 

If it wasn’t for the school and the children, I would be sick in bed every day.