As September dawned, over a thousand pupils found themselves stepping into the peculiar setting of their new classrooms – five underground metro stations in Kharkiv. The Mayor of the north-eastern Ukrainian city, Ihor Terekhov, announced plans for Ukraine’s first subterranean school, representing a new frontier of wartime survival.
Terekhov emphasized that such a unique edifice would enable thousands to maintain their essential face-to-face learning, even under the looming shadow of missile threats. Strikes on the Kharkiv region, long no stranger to rocket attacks, were unfortunately frequent events, the Mayor noted.
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine left a devastating imprint on the nation’s educational infrastructure. More than 360 schools were levelled, and by 2022, over 3,000 more had suffered significant damage following Russia’s full-on invasion. Amidst a volatile backdrop of relentless missile and drone attacks, only a third of Ukraine’s school population can currently study in-person, a fact highlighted by the UN children’s agency, Unicef.
The pupils, grappling with the harsh realities of war and displacement, found temporary sanctuaries in these “metro-schools”. Forced to study in conditions starkly contrasting with their former classrooms, they did so without consistent heating, exhibiting remarkable resilience and defiance in the face of adversity.
The prior week, the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency acknowledged the difficulties faced by the 27-member bloc in integrating the approximate 1.3 million Ukrainian children seeking refuge from the conflict.
In an enlightening social media post, Terekhov announced, “Here, we envision Ukraine’s first underground school,” adding that the forthcoming school would conform to advanced modern standards for defensive construction. Despite an explosive budgetary landscape, Terekhov assured that educational expenditure would remain unhindered this year and next.
Details on the opening date for the underground school and its enrolment capacity remain under wraps for now. However, the station-turned-classrooms had been a powerful testament to resilience, hosting over a thousand Kharkiv pupils starting their new school year last month, with assistance from buses for transportation and a two-shift study schedule to accommodate all.
Kharkiv, sitting uncomfortably close to the Russian border at a mere 30 km, witnessed firsthand the horrors of war amid heavy bombings during the initial onslaught of Russia’s invasion in early 2022. The city even bore witness to intense street battles as Russian troops tried to capture Kharkiv, only for a swift Ukrainian counter-offensive to reclaim the city last fall.
The war continues to leave a crippling impact on Ukraine’s youngest, who, in the midst of air raid alerts, make do with lessons inside metro stations. Yet, symbolizing shades of unbroken spirit, defiant school graduates danced in front of a destroyed building in the Kharkiv region one June afternoon. Throughout this turmoil, one thing stands firm – the indomitable spirit of the Ukrainian people and their unwavering determination to ensure the continuation of education.