The school year continues in Ukraine, but the gloomy season of war ends the classes

BUCHA, Ukraine – The bodies dumped in the school playground in April are gone. The blood stains on the wall were scrubbed clean and the broken windows were mostly repaired.

However, School No. 3 in Kyiv suburb of Buchathe Web of some of Russia’s worst atrocities of the war, did not open when classes began on Thursday for millions of Ukrainian children. Reason for the delay: All schools now have bomb shelters, and the basement of School 3, which residents say was once used as a torture chamber by Russian soldiers, is still a off-limits crime scene.

For 6-year-old Vera, she says she loves math and castles, which means distance learning. She has been looking forward to the first day of school, traditionally, first graders are lifted onto the shoulders of older students to ring the school bell and start a day of celebration.

Instead, the day before school started, she sat at a lone table outside the school in Bucha, posing with a bell in her hand. She smiled, but only briefly, and her mother, Lyudmila, said she was sad not to be in class despite the school’s efforts to make the day festive with singing and a small ceremony.

“It was a bleak and unwelcome test of childhood suffering,” said James Elder, spokesman for UNICEF, United Nations Children’s Fund.

With more sandbags than backpacks, class sizes are limited by how many children can squeeze into bomb shelters, and schools are provided with first aid kits, a day is not a day. the end of the summer holidays but a continuation of the dismal war season. Thousands of schools have been destroyed by Russian bombs and missiles, hundreds of schools have been completely destroyed and for millions of children every day is often filled with excitement and anxiety that begins with the lesson to do. what when the air raid alarm went off.

And that’s for kids who can go back to the classroom. With thousands of schools damaged or destroyed, less than 60% of schools are expected to open on time, Mr Elder said.

An estimated 2.8 million of the nation’s six million children have been displaced by war. If they were lucky enough to find a seat in the classroom, it would probably be an unfamiliar town or city. An estimated two million more children are living outside Ukraine and will be logging on remotely to study with Ukrainian teachers or try to integrate into new schools with classes in a foreign language.

And then there are the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children living under Russian occupation in eastern and southern Ukraine, where Moscow is trying to adopt a new Russian curriculum and teachers who refuse to cooperate will face with harsh reprisals, including kidnapping and torture, according to Ukrainian officials.

According to the National Center for Resistance, a government agency that supports resistance efforts in occupied areas over the past week, an average of 500 families were recorded each day. The agency said that one of the main reasons given was that with the school year approaching, parents wanted to shield their children from Russian propaganda in the new curriculum.

Maksim, 30 years old, a teacher said he escaped from the southern city of Kherson was occupied this week after refusing to teach the new program and people like the others interviewed wanted to use only their own names for fear that they or their families in the occupied territory would face persecution. revenge.

“The director of the school tried to force me to stay,” he said after entering territory controlled by the Ukrainian government. “The Russians don’t let any of the teachers leave. If they knew I was a teacher at the checkpoints, they would never have let me pass.”

Schools are a central part of that campaign.

Russia’s Education Minister, Sergei Kravtsov, said in late June that Ukraine’s education system “must be fixed.” According to Moscow, that means teaching a version of history that fits the Kremlin’s false narrative that there is no such thing as a Ukrainian national state.

Yuri Sobolevsky, Deputy Head of the Kherson Regional Government in Exile, said that Russian forces were terrorizing schools and had recently kidnapped a local principal who refused to teach the Electricity curriculum. Kremlin.

“There is a tremendous pressure on all school principals in the whole region,” said Mr. Sobolevsky.

International human rights groups and independent journalists are largely banned from the occupied territories, making it impossible to verify the accounts of witnesses and officials.

Andriy was born in Zolote, a small town in the Luhansk region of about 13,000 people before the war. He became a teacher at the same school he attended as a child.

By the end of June, the Russians had destroyed 95% of the town, he said, and most of the people had fled. Only one girl, a 5-year-old child left. The school is one of the few buildings that stands but has no teachers, so there are no classrooms for her, Andriy said.

Andriy, who stayed in Zolote to take care of his mother, was working in a school in another town, also occupied by the Russians. He said that fortunately he teaches math, math is not affected by the new curriculum.

“The math is the same and the children are the same everywhere, so I will continue my work,” he said. However, classes in the Luhansk region will be online as the massive shelling still shakes the area.

Challenges in areas of Ukraine still controlled by the Kyiv government are also troubling.

Teachers are being trained on how to treat wounds on the battlefield and what to do in case they come across unexploded ordnance.

UNICEF says it has reached some 1.7 million children and their carers, providing psychological and other support.

“From Yemen to Syria, what we’ve learned is that children absolutely need some psychological relief after the war,” said Elder. “And class attendance plays a big part in that.”

The fact that schools are opening in all schools in Bucha and in other hard-hit towns and cities across Ukraine is remarkable in many ways.

Anatolii Fedoruk, the mayor of Bucha, said in the first days of the war, many families sought shelter in schools, they thought it was shelter.

“They were wrong; they were not safe,” he said. During the 32 days of Russian occupation, he noted, schools were turned into firing squads and places of repression.

He spoke outside School 5, where a tank had taken up position in the schoolyard, the black walls of a high-rise across the street as evidence of the violence.

Mr. Fedoruk credited the nonprofit Global Empowerment Mission, a disaster relief nonprofit, for providing much-needed support to rebuild the town’s 15 schools so most could open. on September 1st.

“One of the hardest questions for parents considering going back is whether their children can go to school in a safe environment,” he said. “This is not a complete reconstruction after the war, this is about bringing the children to class and the parents back home.”

But many families have nowhere to return to. Entire towns and cities in eastern Ukraine were essentially razed and many of these families fled westward during the early part of the war.

That is placing a heavy burden on cities like Lviv in western Ukraine.

Dr Irwin Redlener, co-founder of the Ukrainian Children’s Action Project, a non-profit group, said: “While every effort is being made to meet the needs of children and their families in Ukraine, Lviv and its surroundings, it was overwhelming. And many Ukrainian children have special needs because of the trauma they have witnessed.

“There are two looming issues that could destroy the future of Ukrainian children and the country itself: long-term disruption of education; and persistent, unmanageable psychological trauma,” he said.

Lyudmila says she tried to explain what was going on with her daughter Vera, though she gave only a “mild” version.

Her daughter learned that Russian soldiers had broken into their home as they fled. But her mother kept the details of the horrors hidden at her school, which had children from first to 12th grade, and Lyudmila also attended when she was a child.

Vera should have “good memories” of the school, as she did, Lyudmila said.

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