For millions of children in Ukraine, this sentiment is alarming. According to UNICEF, many parents are reluctant to send their children to school without knowing whether they will be safe.
“Children are returning to schools, many of which were damaged during the war, with tales of destruction, not knowing if teachers and friends will meet them,” UNICEF School Director-General Katherine Russell said in a statement. , at the end of a three-day visit to Ukraine.
On the first day of the start of the school year in Ukraine, Mrs. Russell visited a rehabilitated elementary school that had been damaged in the first weeks of the war. Only 300 students can attend the school due to the capacity of the school’s bomb shelter, which was hardly 14% of the school’s capacity before the war.
Thousands of schools damaged or destroyed
© UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson
Thousands of schools across the country were damaged or destroyed, and less than 60% of schools were deemed safe and fit to reopen by the government.
In general, Ukrainian schools are sorely lacking funds to build bomb shelters instead of playgrounds. “Children 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 school include rebuilding schools, providing laptops, tablets and supplies to teachers and students. This also applies to teaching children and teachers how to feel safe in times of war.
“The education of Ukrainian children has been drastically compromised. After more than two years of the Covid-19 pandemic and six months after the escalation of the war, their physical and mental health is under serious strain. More needs to be done to cope with what for many is a sad reality,” said Ms Russell.
Providing education to 760,000 children since the beginning of the war
On the ground, UNICEF is working with the government to help Ukrainian children return to classroom learning when it is considered safe, and if it is not, through online or community-based alternatives. Some 760,000 children have received formal or non-formal education since the start of the war.
While Ukrainian schoolchildren face constant threats to their lives and well-being, refugee children face other 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 almost 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 has helped more than 615,000 people, including the most vulnerable families, with humanitarian cash transfers.
“If there is no peace, the lives of children and their families in Ukraine will become even more difficult as winter approaches,” Ms Russell said.