Teachers pass on life lessons to students in eastern Ukraine

12-year-old Oleksandra Hanusova was forced to flee the conflict in eastern Ukraine five years ago. Now enrolled at a school in Sievierodonetsk, Oleksandra is finally able to study in peace.

UNICEF/2019/Simonenko /Severodonetsk

20 June 2019

12-year-old Oleksandra Hanusova had no time to pack when she was forced to flee the conflict in eastern Ukraine five years ago.

“We lived in Luhansk,” the young student recalls. “I remember the day when the first shelling happened, hitting right our district called Druzhba. My dad came from work and sent me, my mom and younger brother to the bus station, literally in what we were wearing – flip-flops and shorts.”

Now enrolled at a school in Sievierodonetsk, Oleksandra is finally able to study in peace. But she is not the only one to have lost her home. Of the nearly nine hundred students here, every eighth boy or girl is displaced.

School principal Tetiana Koriakina knows just how important it has been to make Oleksandra and other displaced children feel welcome.


Since 2016, she has been among over 100 teachers trained by UNICEF to provide vulnerable children with life skills education, increasing the likelihood that they will contribute positively to post-conflict recovery. Skills taught under the ‘Safe School’ project include clear communication, empathy, cooperation, problem-solving, respect for human rights and reconciliation.

Oleksandra felt welcomed since day one. She now takes part in almost all school events and has even become a correspondent for the school’s website. Thanks to the ‘Safe School’ project, she has also learned valuable new skills.

“We learned to understand what bullying is,” she says. “There was even a special roundtable at our school on this topic. Together with the teachers, student representatives and student mediators, we discussed how to counter it and what the solution for this problem may be. We also learned how to understand each other better and solve conflicts through mediation.”

Tetiana says it has been a learning process for everyone, including the teachers.

“Safety and inclusion were always priorities for us,” Tetiana says, “However, when we first analyzed our school with the help of UNICEF, it turned out that we needed to rethink many things. A big problem is safe drinking water – a large education facility like this requires over 35 cubic meters an hour. We also need to create recreation areas in order for children to understand and respect each other.”

“Most importantly, we received new tools,” the principal continues. “The authors of the ‘Safe School’ project developed an online testing system of sorts, which is open to both teachers and students. The results of the survey paint a picture that allows us to identify problems.”


Students like 12-year-old Eldar Dovbush have been eager to put into practice the communication and mediation skills they have learned.                                 

“There was a conflict between several students at school,” he says. “So, we sat down to settle this conflict at the roundtable and talked about what needed to be done to prevent such things from happening again in the future.”

Oleksandra is now preparing to graduate. She hopes to study at university and become a journalist. School has transformed her life for the better and, with the help of the ‘Safe School’ project, others will continue in her footsteps. 

In addition to promoting the ‘Safe School’ project, UNICEF is working with partners across eastern Ukraine to provide much-needed counselling, psychosocial support, and information on the risks of mines to hundreds of thousands of children, youth and caregivers affected by the conflict.


But many children remain vulnerable. The conflict in eastern Ukraine has taken a devastating toll on the education system, destroying and damaging hundreds of schools and forcing 700,000 children to learn in fragile environments, amidst volatile fighting and the dangers posed by unexploded weapons of war. The situation is particularly severe for 400,000 children who live within 20km of the “contact line”, which divides the government and non-government-controlled areas and where shelling and mine-contamination pose a lethal threat.

UNICEF urges all governments, including Ukraine, to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, an intergovernmental political commitment to take concrete measures to protect students, educators and educational facilities from deliberate and indiscriminate attack during armed conflict.

UNICEF/2019/Simonenko /Severodonetsk