Ukrainian children began their second straight wartime school year on Friday, some heading to new underground classrooms, others bracing to run after bombing raids to take cover from Russian missiles and drones.
Many, at home and abroad, remained online for a fourth year, their education destroyed by the invasion of Russia and COVID-19.
Russian airstrikes have completely destroyed 1,300 schools since President Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, according to data from the UN Children’s Fund, which recorded damage to many other schools.
Minister of Education Oksen Lisovyi reported this week that 84% of schools are now equipped with operational accommodation.
In the eastern city of Kharkiv, it can take less than a minute for a missile from Russia to arrive – so authorities there have to improvise a way to get children back to school.
Classrooms have been created in the city’s ornate Soviet-era subway stations, some overlooking chandeliers hanging over colonnaded platforms below.
More than 1,000 children will be able to study in person in the 60 school rooms that have been built, said Mayor Ihor Terekhov, a development welcomed by many parents.
“They will be able to socialise with each other there, find a common language, communicate,” Iryna Loboda said on a Kharkiv street where she was out with her school-aged son.”
Not everyone is on board with the plan.
“Children’s safety comes first,” another mother, Tetiana Bondar, said. “My children will attend online classes, although our school offered a bus to transfer children to the subway.”
Additional reporting by Ivan Lyubysh-Kirdey; Writing by Dan Peleschuk and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Conor Humphries