“Evacuation bags” and bomb shelters: it’s back to Ukraine in wartime
Kyiv, Ukraine— On Thursday, September 1, parents and students gathered on the steps of Gymnasium No. 117 in Kyiv for the obligatory first day of school photographs. At one point, an administrator came out from inside the building and chided, “It’s not safe to stay here!”
The crowd broke through the front doors and gathered in the hallway of the school. About 20 parents took quick photos on their smartphones as students, ranging from elementary to high school, lined up neatly in rows according to their class years.
Most of the students wore vyshyvankas, the traditional embroidered blouses of Ukraine. Some of the boys wore sports jackets and ties. All had brought bouquets of flowers for their teachers. A row of high school students held a long blue and yellow Ukrainian flag above their heads, and a banner at the back of the room read “Hello School” in blue and yellow letters.
The students smiled and carried on, obviously pleased to be surrounded by other children their own age. They shouldered backpacks full of new notebooks and writing utensils. Each student was also required by law to bring a separate “bug out bag” filled with items they would need in the event of a Russian missile attack. Things like a copy of their birth certificate, a bottle of water, energy bars, and an information card filled out with their name, home address, and medical history.
“It’s not so safe in Kyiv; missiles can still come here,” said Yura Terentiev, whose 6-year-old daughter Nina was among the students who started the new school year at Gymnasium No. 117.
“I’m worried about her, but my daughter is very excited to go back to school and be with her classmates,” Terentiev said. Coffee or Die Magazine.
As the students lined up and waited for the first bell, Terentiev stood at the side of the entrance hall and took pictures. To his left was a billboard with a blue and yellow background titled “My Father Defends Ukraine.” Numerous photos of soldiers’ fathers filled the exhibit, including several of Terentiev in the upper left corner. Just a month ago, the 32-year-old returned from a combat deployment to the eastern front lines near the town of Lysychansk. It was difficult, and he went for long periods of time without talking to his family.
Terentiev, who owns a digital printing press in Kyiv, evacuated his wife and daughter abroad for a few months after the start of the full-scale war. Now they’re back home trying to adjust to the new normal of wartime life – although Terentiev’s wife remains anxious because her husband is still a soldier and due to return to combat in a month. Yet, for today at least, the family can still enjoy a significant part of their pre-war existence.
“It feels good that we saved Kyiv and that the children can go back to school,” Terentiev said. “But the war is far from over. We still have difficult days ahead of us.
When the first bell rang at Gymnasium No. 117, the students ceremoniously ascended the stairs to their classrooms. Many parents, including Terentiev, lingered a few more moments in the school entrance. Such scenes played out across Ukraine on Thursday as students began a new academic year amid the nationwide threat of Russian missile attacks and a fierce ground war on the country’s southern and eastern front lines. .
Known as Knowledge Day, the first day of school in Ukraine is a milestone event marked by many traditions, including a ceremonial formation for all students before the first bell rings and classes begin. This year’s Knowledge Day was particularly special, as it was the first time many Ukrainian schools had reopened for in-person classes since the full-scale war began on Feb. 24.
“We spent the whole war outside Kyiv, and it is important to find a way for our daughter to live a normal life. That’s why we decided that she will go to school today and not take online classes,” said Inna Pyvovar, whose 10-year-old daughter attended classes at Gymnasium No. 117 in Kyiv. Thursday.
In preparation for the upcoming academic year, Ukrainian lawmakers passed a law over the summer creating new national educational standards. Depending on the measure, all courses will be online in places under Russian occupation or on the front lines of the ground war. In the rest of Ukraine, parents have the choice of having their child attend in-person lessons or participate in “distance learning” via computer video streams.
Every child attending in-person classes is now required by law to bring a bug out bag to class. Under new wartime education standards, classes will continue in bomb shelters in the event of an air raid alert.
“Making the decision to stay in Ukraine, you have to be ready for anything and consider all the risks of this decision,” said Svitlana Varvianska, a 40-year-old mother of two who lives in the city of Poltava, in the center of Ukraine.
According to the Kyiv City Council, around 180,000 schoolchildren currently live in the city. Of that number, around 138,000 – about 77% – will take online courses, the city council reported. About 20% of children in the capital stay abroad. Across the country, the war has forced about two-thirds of Ukrainian children to flee their homes, UNICEF reported.
To help with online education, the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine has reached an agreement with Zoom, the Internet communication platform, to provide free access to all Ukrainian schools this school year, which ends in June 2023.
Ukrainian officials have reported that around 20% of Ukrainian schools have already been destroyed or damaged during the full-scale invasion of Russia. So Ukrainian parents must weigh their legitimate wartime fears against the desire to restore a foundation of stability to their children’s lives – especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has already caused successive years of intermittent closures. schools, depriving many children of valuable social interactions.
Vladyslav Chobotar, a 27-year-old living in the central Ukrainian town of Horishni Plavni, said his family initially considered home-schooling his 10-year-old sister, but eventually opted for in-person lessons.
“We decided that for her social life it was better for her to go to school,” Chobotar said. “At the moment we are not afraid to send him to school, because it is much safer there than in our apartment, which is on the fifth floor of a Soviet building. Plus, we taught her to be responsible, so she knows she can’t ignore the air raid sirens and has to obey what the teachers say.
Sergiy Levchuk, a resident of Kyiv and president of the Ukrainian Karate Federation, decided it was still too dangerous for his children to take in-person lessons in the capital.
“In my opinion, they should go to school and learn,” Levchuk said. coffee or die. “But speaking of the current circumstances, they will learn via the Internet.”
With a 9-year-old son in fourth grade and an 11-year-old son in sixth grade, Varvianska and her husband are generally opposed to online learning because it excludes many invaluable practical lessons in raising a child, such as physical learning. education classes, art classes, and biology and chemistry workshops. Despite this, the couple decided to enroll their youngest son in online lessons as his school did not provide any information about his bomb shelter preparations.
“Nobody knows how long he will be at home,” Varvianska said, adding that her eldest son’s school offered a mix of in-person and home-based learning because the building’s bomb shelter n is not big enough to accommodate everyone. student.
Despite all the new safety rules, Varvianska remains “extremely skeptical” about the real usefulness of school bomb shelters in the event of a direct hit by a Russian missile.
“It goes without saying that letting my kids go to school is scary,” Varvianska said. coffee or die. “Objectively speaking, basements are capable of saving our children if the rocket hits nearby. However, if it hits directly, the basement will be destroyed.
Nevertheless, Ukrainian parents are simply doing their best in an extraordinary time, Varvianska said, adding that there really is no safe place in Ukraine as the Russian missile threat affects the whole country.
“Parents should understand that for a child, staying at home is always dangerous because there are random rocket attacks, especially in densely populated cities like Poltava,” Varvianska said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have a role model to follow – we create our own path.”
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