Helping children return to school

Published: Jun 28, 2024 Reading time: 4 minutes
Helping children return to school
© Photo: People in Need

The last school year was extraordinary for the students and teachers of the Boromlyansky Lyceum in Sumy Oblast. Their school suffered greatly from the Russian army's offensive, and for a long time, the children had to study remotely. Thanks to the tireless efforts of our colleagues and the community, the students could return to their desks.

Before the full-scale invasion, Boromlyansky lyceum had just undergone renovation. The school bought new appliances for the canteen, purchased a new bus, and equipped the classrooms with modern equipment. The large and spacious building immediately attracted the attention of the invading Russians. They settled in the school and put their equipment in the yard. There was no direct hit to the building, but an air strike blew out nearly all the windows and doors.

"They used furniture to board up the windows and made beds out of wardrobes, with shelves. The picture is the same as everywhere else. Here is a dry ration, here is a toilet, here is a bed," says Svitlana Bilous, the school's director.

Most of the teachers remained in Boromlia during the occupation. In March 2022, when troops liberated the village, Svitlana was one of the first to enter the mutilated school and was shocked by what the occupiers had left behind. 

"We had two tripwires. And grenades. The Russians destroyed everything. Everything was broken, and equipment, projectors, and computers were stolen. They even cut the cords from the refrigerators and stole the dishes. When they were leaving, they shot through the rest of the windows. There was glass everywhere."

The teachers and parents did their best to put the school in order independently, but without windows and a heating system, the building simply could not function. Children studied remotely. The school in Boromlia was one of the first war-damaged schools we began to restore.

 "As part of Education Consortium in Ukraine: Safe Return to School Project, 20 institutions in the Sumy region have been repaired so far. Boromliansky Lyceum was one of the first schools that our organisation began to restore. First, in 2022, we completely replaced the heating system, which was depressurised due to broken windows and damage to the building. But for the children to return to school, they needed a safe, equipped shelter. So we also repaired the school's shelter," says Nataliia Kozmenko, Project Officer at People in Need. 

The European Union funded the renovation. Our team took responsibility for the work to help the children get back to their school routines as soon as possible.

"The first people who came to us and offered to help were People in Need representatives. They saw our broken windows and our damaged heating system, which was our biggest problem," said Svitlana Bilous, lyceum director. 

The shelter is designed for 700 people. It has heating, bathrooms, and a first aid station. At first, parents hesitated to let their children go to school, but when they saw the shelter, they realised it would be safer at the school than at home.

"Air alerts occur often in the Sumy region. Several times a day. There were 14 alarms in one day. Teachers barely have time to write to parents: "In the shelter. We came out of the shelter". As soon as we come out of the shelter, there is another alarm," says one of the parents, Oleksandr Shved.

That is why children often spend several lessons in a row in the shelter. The parents feel much calmer.

One schoolgirl’s mother, Nataliia Zhytnia, explained, "We are all working people. At home, I worry about where she will go. At home, you have to leave your child with someone. I know she is safe here at the school, and the teachers will always support her." 

Some classrooms still show traces of shelling. A lot of work is ahead, and the school needs internal repairs. But the first step has already been taken: students have returned to their classrooms, which are warm in winter. When the children were studying remotely, they missed in-person communication.

"It was one boy's birthday. We went down to the shelter and then decided to sing the anthem. He walked down the hall, sang, and said: 'Today is the happiest day of my life. Moments like this give us strength," recalls Svitlana Bilous. 

This year, more than 400 students graduated from Boromlyansky Lyceum. We are proud that we had a hand in this and were able to reduce the devastating impact of the war on the childhood of Ukrainian children.

Autor: People in Need

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