Children return to Ukrainian school ransacked by Russian occupying forces | Ukraine

Jhe children and teachers gathered on the grass outside Borodianka School No. 2 on Thursday morning for the first day of the school year. There were speeches and a recital of the Ukrainian national anthem, and as is tradition, the girls wore white scrunchies in their hair, the boys wore white shirts. They brought flowers to give to their teachers.

But there will be no classes in the classrooms of School #2 this year. Borodianka, a town just north of Kyiv, was occupied by Russian forces in March. The invading soldiers used the school as a base, then ransacked it as they left.

Teachers said they returned to the school after his release and discovered that the soldiers had used several classrooms as toilets, left rubbish everywhere and unnecessarily destroyed whiteboards, physical education equipment, televisions and computers. computers. They had spray-painted anti-Ukrainian and pro-Russian slogans on the walls and dug trenches behind the school.

A classroom like Russian soldiers left it
A classroom as the Russian soldiers left it. Photography: Valentina Rozchenko

“The ironic thing is that the only burnt-out classroom was the Russian literature class,” said Andriy Bondar, the school’s physical education teacher, during a tour of the building on Thursday.

Like many other towns and villages in northern Ukraine, the residents of Borodyanka endured a month of terror under occupation, including indiscriminate shelling, executions and torture. Just down the road from the school, a series of buildings were flattened when Russian planes dropped heavy bombs in early March, killing most residents. Each person seemed to have their own horror story say.

Broken computer equipment on the floor
Broken computer equipment on the floor. Photography: Valentina Rozchenko

Thursday morning’s speeches stuck to familiar themes of defying the odds and ridding Ukraine of the “enemy.” There was a minute of silence for those who had died defending the country. After the ceremony, teachers and students went home to start their lessons on their smartphones and laptops. Only the first year will learn in person, joining another first year class in the only school in town that was not damaged.

“I wanted to do something good for everyone, to give some positivity to the children,” said Inna Romaniuk, the headmistress, who said the school was undergoing renovations and they were hoping to reopen the school. next year.

Almost all the windows in the school were covered with plastic sheets, blown away by the impact of the strikes that hit the school building and its surroundings.

Windows blown out by impact of missile strikes
Windows blown away by the impact of missile strikes. Photo: Isobel Koshow/The Guardian

Miraculously, the football pitch survived unscathed, said Bondar, the physical education teacher. The school places a strong emphasis on football and three of its students have been part of the Ukraine national youth team.

Parents of the 6 million Ukrainian students who returned to school on Thursday have been told to choose between online and offline learning. Only schools located in areas that are not regularly threatened by shelling will reopen.

Where enough students have opted for in-person instruction and schools are ready for use, school administrations have prepared for the new school year by equipping basements with shelters and training teachers on this. what to do in the event of an attack. All children who show up in person should bring an emergency bag with a change of clothes, any medication they may need, a note from their parents and, for younger children, a favorite toy.

School desks on the ground next to a Russian trench
School desks on the ground next to a Russian trench. Photography: Valentina Rozchenko

Besides the destruction, part of the challenge facing schools is psychological. Teachers at School No. 2 said more than half of parents opted for distance learning because they feared the schools would be attacked.

“Our child is still scared. She jumps when she hears a car,” said Natasha Shuka, the mother of Tetiana, a teenager from the school, who was watching the ceremony from the sidelines. “I can pretty much say for everyone that we always feel fear whenever we hear something loud.”

“It’s quite a process, we’ll try the first month and see how it goes,” said Svitlana Popova, the school’s maths teacher, whose house was destroyed by a rocket and who now lives in his shed. Popova taught her first lesson of the day from her backyard, using her phone and a blackboard she leaned against a given cupboard.

Schools across the country have been the target of repeated attacks. The Prosecutor General of Ukraine said 2,300 educational institutions were affected and 286 destroyed. Some were used as bases by Russian troops due to their ability to accommodate troops with their toilets, showers and canteens. Others were randomly destroyed, many of them in the early days of the invasion.

Pro-Russian graffiti on the walls
Pro-Russian graffiti on the walls. Photo: Isobel Koshow/The Guardian

According to a report by the Center for Information Resilience, a London-based human rights organization, in areas of Ukraine that have come under heavy attack, students have been left with a poorer education system. . The report revealed that in the Kharkiv region alone, Russian forces had targeted a boarding school for visually impaired students, a 218-year-old university library, a university training pool used by Olympic athletes and a nearly 100-year-old vocational college. 100 years. .

“The bombings not only destroyed classrooms, they blocked safe access to specialized equipment for children with disabilities, endangered books that had previously survived World War II, sabotaged dreams Olympic Games and interrupted instruction in colleges that have been operational for generations,” the report said. said.

Millions of people have fled Ukraine, including 22,000 teachers, according to Sergii Gorbachov, Ukraine’s education ombudsman. About 440,000 remain, but the problem is not so much numbers as internal migration, he said. In some places there are too many teachers and in others not enough.

Additional reporting by Shaun Walker

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