For millions of children in Ukraine, mood is one of the concerns. According to UNICEF, many parents are reluctant to send their children to school, not knowing if they will be safe.
“Children are returning to schools – many of them damaged in the war – with stories of destruction, unsure if their teachers and friends will come to welcome them,” the school’s director general said in a statement. UNICEF, Catherine Russell, at the end of a three-day visit to Ukraine.
On the first day of the start of the Ukrainian school year, Mrs. Russell visited a reconstructed elementary school that was damaged during the first weeks of the war. Due to the capacity of the school’s anti-aircraft shelter, only 300 pupils can attend the school, which is barely 14% of the school’s capacity before the war.
Thousands of schools damaged or destroyed
© UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson
Thousands of schools across the country have been damaged or destroyed, and less than 60% of schools have been deemed safe and fit to reopen by the government.
In general, Ukrainian schools lack the resources to build bomb shelters instead of playgrounds. “Kids are learning about unexploded ordnance instead of talking about road safety,” Ms Russell said, noting the “harsh reality for Ukrainian students, parents and teachers.”
Despite these security and logistical challenges, efforts to get children back to learning include rebuilding schools, providing laptops, tablets and supplies to teachers and students. It is also about educating children and teachers how to feel safe in times of war.
“The education of Ukrainian children was dramatically threatened. After more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and six months since the escalation of the war, their physical and mental health is severely strained. More needs to be done to address what is a sad reality for many,” Ms Russell argued.
Providing education for 760,000 children since the start of the war
On the ground, UNICEF is working with the government to help Ukrainian children return to classrooms when it is safe to do so, and through online or community-based alternatives, if not, it can do so in person. Since the beginning of the war, about 760,000 children have received formal or informal education.
While Ukrainian schoolchildren face constant threats to their lives and well-being, refugee children face different challenges. As of July 31, 2022, about 650,000 Ukrainian children living as refugees in 12 host countries were still not enrolled in national education systems.
UNICEF has supported nearly half of them in formal or non-formal education and is working with governments and partners to ensure that Ukrainian refugee children are enrolled in schools or have access to lifelong learning.
Across Ukraine, UNICEF helped more than 615,000 additional people, including the most vulnerable families, with humanitarian cash transfers.
“Unless there is peace, life for children and their families in Ukraine will become even more difficult as winter approaches,” Ms Russell said.