© UNICEF/UN0691707/Hrom
© UNICEF/UN0691707/Hrom

Destroyed schools, bomb shelters, air-raid sirens: Ukraine’s children begin another school year in wartime

published 31 August 2023 updated 21 March 2024

UNICEF reports that over 1,300 schools in Ukraine have been completely destroyed since the start of the full-scale invasion launched by Russia in February 2022. Most Ukrainian students are forced to continue their studies online, far from teachers and friends. As a new school year begins in September, students and teachers face continued violence, uncertainty, and apprehension.

“Schools are never legitimate targets of war yet in Ukraine they have been attacked over and over again. Our colleagues and their students persevere despite the violence unleashed on them, but we cannot underestimate the devastating effects of the invasion. Education unions around the world stand with Ukraine and will continue to support Ukrainian teachers in all their efforts.”

David Edwards | Education International General Secretary

Education under attack

Ukraine’s education system has been severely affected by the full-scale invasion. Nearly 7 million students have seen their lives and education brutally interrupted. More than 1,300 schools have been completely destroyed since February 2022 and many others have been severely damaged.

According to the latest enrolment data, only around one third of students in primary and secondary education are learning fully in-person. Two thirds of Ukrainian students have to attend classes partly or fully online because their schools have been destroyed or lack a bomb shelter to protect them in case of attack.

According to national survey data, two-thirds of preschool-age children are not attending preschool. In frontline areas, three-quarters of parents report not sending their children to preschool.

Going to school underground

Ukrainian authorities are working to provide safe infrastructure for education in the country. Many times this means building bomb shelters for schools.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city and home to 1.4 million people before the full-scale invasion, local authorities have begun building classrooms in metro stations to protect students from missiles. The city’s proximity to the Russian border means that missile can reach their targets within minutes, leaving little time for children to get to the safety of a shelter. After years of online learning, over 1,000 students in Kharkiv will soon be able to attend school in person in the 60 classrooms being built in the city’s underground.

Long term impact on learning and well-being

While the experience with online teaching and learning during the Covid-19 pandemic has allowed education to continue despite the war, the prolonged lack of contact with teachers and peers has affected millions of students in terms of learning and wellbeing.

According to UNICEF, up to 57% of Ukrainian teachers report a deterioration in students’ Ukrainian language abilities, up to 45% report a reduction in mathematics skills, and up to 52% report a reduction in foreign language abilities.

Furthermore, millions of children who have already experienced loss, violence, and displacement are now also deprived of the safety and healthy routine of a school environment surrounded by friends and teachers. Ensuring their safe return to classrooms is imperative.

Low enrolment rates among Ukrainian refugees

Refugee children from Ukraine have also seen their education affected. UNICEF reports that more than half of the children of preschool to secondary age are not enrolled in national education systems across seven countries hosting Ukrainian refugees. Language barriers and overstretched education systems are often the cause of the low enrolment rates.

Some refugee students are likely to be studying online using Ukrainian distance learning platforms and resources available on the Internet. However, some may have abandoned their education.

“The safety of the educational process, motivated teachers, and quality education for our children have been and remain our priority.”

Georgiy Trukhanov | President of the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers of Ukraine

Education unionists continue to work for Ukraine’s teachers and students

The Trade Union of Education and Science Workers of Ukraine (TUESWU), Education International member organisation, has come to the aid of teachers and students in the country since the first days of the full-scale invasion.

At the beginning of this new school year in wartime, TUESWU’s President Georgiy Trukhanov stressed that “the issue of safe working and learning conditions for teachers and children is a top priority for all of us, for the entire country”.

The union leader also expressed concern regarding the growing teacher shortage: “Due to the full-scale war in Ukraine, a significant number of teachers are abroad, and there are also teachers who cannot conduct the educational process for various reasons - destroyed houses, lack of gadgets, lack of motivation. Now the issue of returning teachers from abroad and returning teachers to the profession in general is critical.”

The union is advocating for a salary increase for Ukraine’s teachers in order to keep them in the profession and motivate them to return to the country. Addressing the union’s efforts in this direction, Trukhanov explained that “today, more than ever, financial support is the most motivating issue for teachers. The budget process is currently underway and our trade union, in its proposals to the draft State Budget of Ukraine for 2024, insists on a significant increase in salaries, as well as the provision of guarantees in the legislation, and the preservation of safe and decent working conditions despite the extremely difficult situation in the country.”

Educators stand with Ukraine

Since the start of the full-scale invasion, education unions around the world have mobilised in support of Ukrainian colleagues. Working closely with the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers of Ukraine, educators everywhere have rallied to help teachers and students in Ukraine and abroad.

In May, an Education International delegation visited Ukraine’s capital to deliver a strong message of solidarity and meet with colleagues from TUESWU, Education International member organisation in the country. The delegation also met with the Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine, the Mayor of Kyiv, as well as representatives of the Trade Union Federation of Ukraine, UNICEF, and UNESCO.

Click here to find out more about our visit and watch the video below.