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War for the Right to Education: What It’s Like to Study in the Presence of Active Air Raids

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Editor’s Note: This article is a part of the Holos Project, a four-way partnership (ENGin, The Los Angeles Times Insider, Published Points of View, The Outspoken) established to empower the voices of Ukrainian students across the world through one-on-one journalism mentorship. This article was written by Iryna Zhovtonoh from Ukraine with the mentorship of Allison from the United States. “Holos” is the Ukrainian word for “Voice”. 

In the school basement with wet books, in outerwear, often without electricity, and under the sounds of air raid alerts, the students of my school are studying this year. Here in Ukraine, the war has completely changed the price of such basic and customary things for children around the world such as attending school, listening to teachers in the classroom, and following normal routines.
Nowadays, lots of Ukrainian schools are damaged and many completely destroyed. According to the official statements, over 2,600 Ukrainian schools were damaged and over 400 were completely destroyed since the Russian invasion. These schools weren’t just buildings, though. For a long time, they have been important parts of the lives of many Ukrainian villages and cities and the ruthless Russian demolition of such an immense amount of schools endangers the restoration of Ukrainian communities and societies.

As just one example, Russians completely bombed a school on November 13th in the Bakhmut region, on the eastern front line. The newly repaired school had been teaching about 200 children and was going to celebrate 45 years of its establishment. Since the war started, Russian missiles had hit the school four times. After all four missiles, the once two-floor building turned into rubbles of ruined walls. Сurrently, the students of the school study online thousands of kilometers from their homes.
80% of school-aged children in the Donetsk region are in evacuation, but thousands of those students, who still have to live near the front-line border, stay in heavily shelling areas.  The constant shelling and bombing of Donbas have hindered a lot of children from getting access to education.  
Even far away from the front line, students the same can’t feel safe due to Russian airstrike attacks. In the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, Russian missiles reportedly hit one of the biggest and oldest universities in the country. Taras Shevchenko National University became a target on October 10th when about 100 rockets were launched across Ukraine. That morning, many students were near the university and at risk. Another massive attack was on December 31st when 10 university buildings were damaged by a missile.

In all Ukrainian regions, almost every day students hear loud air raids and have to go to school shelters, oftentimes several times a day. Although many schools are offering hybrid formats that include online studying, the Russian attacks on infrastructure cause power cutting and jeopardize students’ access to education.

The Russian invasion has put at risk education in Ukraine. However, despite the war and extreme conditions, students continue to study thanks to the titanic efforts of parents and  Ukrainian teachers. For example, the teacher from the just de-ocсupied Lyman, on the eastern front line, established a school in his home. Due to the fact that a local school had been broken by Russians and there wasn’t any electricity and internet in the village to study online, the teacher organized the studying for many children in his own house. 

In another example, in the de-energized Kyiv, a teacher was providing online lessons outside where she found a place with Internet near the store and gave online tasks for students as she remained in the cold. 

Another example: The professor of Uzghorod National University gave online lectures for two classes of students in time between his fight alterations. There are not just a few examples, teachers across Ukraine do everything possible to bring back to students a sense of normalcy even for a short period of lessons in the classrooms.

While the war in Ukraine is going on with battles on the front lines and in the sky, every day millions of Ukrainian parents and teachers continue to fight to keep their children educated. 

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