Ukrainian schools rush to build bomb shelters before start of term

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Illia’s school was flattened by bombs in Lysychansk, a town in the eastern Ukrainian region of Lugansk now occupied by Russian forces.

But his mother Svitlana is determined that the eighth-grader will continue his studies.

“My son’s school is no longer there. It was completely bombed – and it can never be restored,” she said.

The couple visit Illia’s new school in Irpin, near Kyiv, where workers are replacing windows blown out during a Russian artillery attack.

“I think we’ll have a better life here,” said Svitlana, who asked that her last name not be used.

“The most important thing is that our children learn.”

Thousands of schools bombed and 286 destroyed

Authorities are constructing bomb shelters and repairing thousands of buildings damaged by shelling by Russian forces before the country’s nearly six million school-aged children return to school in September – online or online. nobody.

Nearly 2,300 educational institutions have been shelled or shelled since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, and 286 have been completely destroyed, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science.

More than 350 children died and 586 were injured, according to UN data.

The total could be much higher.

Officials want school to resume, in part to allow women to return to work.

Traces of fragments can be seen as a worker replaces windows blown out during a Russian artillery attack.(Reuters: Gleb Garanich)

But assessing around 80% of Ukraine’s 26,000 educational institutions, from kindergartens to universities, the Interior Ministry found that only 41% had bomb shelters.

This is a 400% increase from a few months ago, and more shelters could still be completed in the coming weeks, but availability is low near the front.

In the Mykolaiv region, where Russian forces have recently intensified their bombardments, only 16% of schools have shelters.

Because of this, millions of children and young people will need to continue learning remotely, said Sonia Khush, country director for Save the Children Ukraine.

This will compound the high dropout rates among teens already seen after two years of COVID-related shutdowns, she said.

“We are faced with a matrix of options – all of them are bad”

“There is no win-win in this situation,” said Oleksii Riabchyn, a former deputy energy minister and adviser to the general director of the national energy company Naftogaz.

Dr Riabchyn fled to Lviv in western Ukraine with his family on the day of the invasion, but has since returned to Kyiv with his wife.

They are now wondering if they should take their children back to the capital, where they would have to run 15 minutes to the metro station in case of an attack.

Dr Riabchyn hopes to at least bring his six-year-old son to Kyiv for the traditional celebrations before starting first grade.

“We’re faced with a matrix of options – and all of them are bad. That’s the trade-off,” he said.

Disruption has a ‘permanent legacy’

Learning interruptions have long-term consequences, including reduced income later in life.

In February, the World Bank found that the number of children in learning poverty jumped by a third in low- and middle-income countries, to 70%.

These problems are exacerbated in Ukraine.

Workers replace windows and lay bricks in a destroyed school building
Authorities are rushing to repair schools damaged since the Russian invasion, before the start of the school year. (Reuters: Gleb Garanich)

“If children are not educated… it will have a lasting legacy and recovery will be longer, harder and more expensive,” said Arup Banerji, World Bank Regional Director for Eastern Europe.

Ukraine has excellent internet access, but education authorities – especially in frontline areas – are asking for more laptops and other devices, Ms Khush said.

Even if schools open in person, students will need extra support to adjust, and some may need to work split shifts.

The Irpin school’s bomb shelter can only accommodate 300 children, a fraction of its 2,000 pupils, said school principal Ivan Ptashnyk.

Education will encourage the return of “the future of the nation”

Ukraine’s former finance minister, Natalie Jaresko, said restoring education would encourage millions of women and children who fled the country to return.

“It’s the future workforce – it’s the future of the nation, indeed,” she said.

War trauma will also be a big challenge.

Clinical psychologist Olena Romanova works with displaced children and adults in Lviv.

She uses colorful stuffed animals to help children overcome memories of death and destruction.

“Whatever happens, we have to laugh,” Ms Romanova said.

A talking woman surrounded by colorful stuffed animals
Clinical psychologist Olena Romanova works with children displaced by war. (Reuters: Gleb Garanich)

“A lot of [their] the memories would be of this dreadful war… [but] we try to make their lives more positive.”

The Ukrainian non-governmental organization BASE UA uses the arts, including drama, to help displaced teenagers process their war memories.

Vika Okhrymenko, 14, who fled Oleshky under Russian occupation, said the group’s summer camp in the Carpathians had given her respite, but she missed her home.

“I feel like I’ve lost a lot of communication with my classmates,” she said.

“I would like to come back and see them at school, learn and have everything back to normal.”

Reuters

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