The Hontarivka high school in Ukraine's Kharkiv region has survived months of Russian occupation but remains under threat, 30 kilometers from the Russian border. Students and management respond creatively to the lack of a physical school.
"The losses in education are enormous. I don't know how to compensate them. Children, especially the youngest, need face-to-face communication at school. They are very happy when they sometimes get to meet us," Liudmyla Myronenko, director of the the school.
The occasions in which students and teachers can interact face to face are rare; it is still too dangerous to teach at school. A Russian missile could reach the town before the alarm began to sound, and the school has no bomb shelter.
After the start of the invasion, when the town was not yet occupied, its director gave classes in the open air, in the form of a "forest school".
"We have a small park, with benches, and we used to teach the children there," recalls Myronenko.
"It was a risk, because sometimes helicopters and airplanes flew over us. However, we learned their schedules and we came later, when they were already returning to their bases," he explains.
The director refused to collaborate with the authorities installed in the region by Russia, who were trying to convince local teachers to implement the Russian curriculum, in addition to intimidating the population.
"I told them that I would resign and I suggested that each teacher in my school make their own decision. I am proud that not a single one collaborated," says the head of the center.
The lyceum is one of the few schools in the region that has been able to resume studies after the Russian occupation. Many teachers from other villages have left and some schools were looted, their textbooks and literature in Ukrainian were confiscated and destroyed.
"I don't even know who I have to thank, but the Russians didn't break into our school. We hid books, laptops and other equipment. We hid everything they could take," Myronenko said.
The Hontarivka children were sent by bus to a nearby Russian school. They were there until September 11, when the town was liberated in a Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Starting in autumn, a group of students took charge of the situation. Three 5th grade students, helped by their older brothers, organized a campaign "internet-shop", right next to a communications tower, so that they could access the school's online classes from there.
"Denys, Mykola and Artem are creative and think in a new way," praised the director.
The initiative caught the attention of the team at the Kiev School of Economics, which has been helping schools across the country to stay in business despite Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure, which led to lengthy power cuts and phone interruptions. mobile and internet.
An electrical generator and a Starlink satellite internet system were donated to the school to ensure that it could continue to teach.
The security situation remains one of the main concerns. "Shelters are needed in all schools. Children have to be able to go to school, we must not leave them stranded," stresses the director.
Not only children need to learn. The invasion has prompted Myronenko, a professor of Russian language and literature, to take a closer look at Ukraine's past attempts to protect itself from Russia.
Now he is focused on explaining the country's history to students in the region, where for decades the curriculum was dictated by the Soviets and where Russian propaganda later caused many to lose their sense of Ukrainian identity.
The teacher dreams of starting less formal Ukrainian language and history courses for adults, as she believes that children are often influenced by their families' views.
"I have come to the conclusion that I will never allow anyone to speak ill of my language, my State and my President," he maintains.
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