By Rostyslav Averchuk
Lviv, Ukraine, Sep 1 (EFE).- Children in Ukraine returned to school Friday from the summer break, but hundreds of thousands in Russian-occupied cities and in other frontline areas will only be able to do so online.
At School 54 in Mariupol, some 850 students had their first class of the new school year, but they were only able to greet each other and their teachers remotely, through their computer screens at home.
“Up to 80% of our students are currently abroad, scattered in various countries and continents where their families managed to find refuge after fleeing the city,” Tetiana Tilinina, the school’s principal, told EFE.
Just six of the 64 schools that stood in Mariupol before the invasion are still operating online.
The schools provide an opportunity for local children and teachers to maintain a connection with each other, even if they cannot learn under the same roof as most of the city’s education centers have been destroyed amid the war.
They also allow teachers who have fled the country – including some as far away as Canada – to continue providing education to Ukrainian kids, despite the huge geographical distance and time difference.
“They appreciate the opportunity to work in an environment where everyone has a similar experience of loss, understands and supports each other,” the principal explained.
Many also value the opportunity to preserve their jobs and income.
The children also feel better together. So they can communicate more with each other, teachers leave video calls on during recess.
“You’d expect a 10-year-old to talk about toys or gadgets. Instead, they tell their stories of how they managed to get out of the besieged city and who in their family was killed,” Tilinina said.
The school offers a full range of classes, although each student can build their own curriculum according to their own needs, and many also attend local schools in the country they escaped to.
While some choose those subjects that are not taught abroad, such as Ukrainian language, literature and history, many also continue to study mathematics or chemistry in Ukrainian schools.
“Some are not proficient enough in the local language to follow complicated disciplines there, while others are in no hurry to leave classes at our school because they hope to return soon,” Tilinina said.
Many families continue to live in the Russian-controlled city because of elderly relatives they have to take care of or because they fear losing their apartments, as empty flats are often taken over by newcomers from Russia.
With some children returning home after they had been evacuated, they join online classes at the Ukrainian school after being taught “Russian propaganda”, Tilinina said.
“We need to fight for our children. Imagine how hard it is for them to be told in Russian schools that it was Ukraine that destroyed their city despite everything they saw with their own eyes,” she said.
But the thousands of children in Mariupol are not the only ones who cannot return to their classrooms.
Angelina Kalincheva returned to Mykolaiv, along with her 13-year-old daughter, this summer from the western city of Lviv in the hope that the children would be able to go to a local school.
Many parents, concerned that their children were suffering from a lack of socializing, hoped that schools would reopen.