Ukrainian students prepare for clandestine school year – Manila Bulletin

KYIV, Ukraine — Five meters below a Kyiv classroom, principal Mykhaylo Aliokhin is putting the finishing touches on the bunker where his students will spend much of their time once the Ukrainian school term begins later this week.

Toys and books are displayed inside a bomb shelter prepared for schoolchildren at a public school in Kyiv, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, August 29, 2022. The Russian invasion forced more than two million children out of the country and displaced three million internally between February and June, according to UNICEF. Yet in Kyiv, now far from the frontline fighting raging in the east and south, 132,000 students are preparing to return to school on September 1, according to Mayor Vitali Klitschko. Genia SAVILOV / AFP

The study room above is still littered with school bags left behind from February 23 – the last day before Russia invaded and the silence of the school bells was replaced by the whistle of the siren of the air raid.

Down here, there are no windows. Desks, bulletin boards, colorful books and globes all stay upstairs. It used to be a dressing room, but as bombings remain a threat in the capital, it now serves as a shelter.

“As soon as a siren goes off, the staff immediately take the children to the basement, regardless of the activity at the time,” Aliokhin told AFP. “As far as possible, they will continue their work in a relaxed way.

Despite the austere conditions, he hopes a third of his 460 pupils, aged 6 to 16, will return when schools reopen on Thursday for the first time since the start of the war.

Learn to adapt

There are 4.2 million schoolchildren in Ukraine, according to 2021 figures.

Following the Russian invasion, more than two million children left the country, while another three million were internally displaced between February and June, according to UNICEF, the United Nations agency for childhood.

Yet in Kyiv – now far removed from the frontline fighting raging in the east and south – 132,000 students are preparing to return to school on September 1, according to Mayor Vitali Klitschko.

On the left bank of Kyiv, at the Aliokhin private school, which AFP chose not to identify, the staff prepared two scenarios in anticipation of the start of the school year.

One will be a normal “above ground” learning program, 10 meters (33 feet) from the entrance to the shelter.

The other program will take place underground in case the air raid siren goes off, as it does most of the time.

“It’s not out of the question that our enemy, who is very fond of symbolic dates, will take advantage of this one,” Aliokhin, 26, said.

Whether or not there are missiles, the teachers will throw a party downstairs “to show the children that this is a safe place where they will definitely spend a lot of time this year”.

The bunker will be supplied with enough food and water for 48 hours. Medical staff and psychologists will be available at all times.

“I could never have imagined this, but here we are…in this new reality,” Aliokhin said.

“Living in the Moment”

Nationwide, half of the 23,000 schools surveyed by Ukraine’s Ministry of Education – around 51% – have the necessary bunker facilities to start offline lessons. Those who do not have one will give online courses.

The sobering setting doesn’t seem to dampen enthusiasm for the new school year.

“I live next to my school,” said Polina, 16, who is hanging out with friends at a cafe in Kyiv the week before school starts.

“I will be safer there, because we will have descended to the refuge in an organized way.

“To tell the truth, we just want to live life to the fullest after two years of Covid and six months of war,” she added.

“We are not afraid, we have already lived enough. Our generation has decided to live in the moment.

The choice may be more difficult for parents. According to Ukrainian education ombudsman Sergiy Gorbachov, most parents reject face-to-face education because they fear the risks.

The Ministry of Education claims that 2,135 schools were damaged during the war.

“Regions close to the front line up completely. Face-to-face is simply not possible there,” Gorbachev said.

Nevertheless, Yulia Shatravenko-Sokolovych, whom AFP met in Kyiv, decided that her seven-year-old daughter, Myroslava, would be back in class on Thursday.

“Of course we are all scared, but I can’t deprive my child of socialization,” she said. “I trust the Ukrainian army, which defends us.

“The fact that we have returned to a more or less normal life gives me hope.”

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