By Rostyslav Averchuk
Lviv, Ukraine, Dec 23 (EFE).- The start of the Christmas holidays brings an end to one of the most trying school semesters in Ukraine’s history, a months-long period in which teachers and students have been forced to cope with war-related danger, stress and power outages.
Moments after a bell signaled the start of the last day before vacation, the lights went out at the school in Stare Selo, a village some 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Lviv whose population has endured near-daily power cuts resulting from Russian attacks on the country’s energy infrastructure.
But the outages and frequent air-raid sirens have not prevented hundreds of thousands of students in western regions largely spared Russia’s wrath from attending classes for the past four months.
Among the activities Friday in Stare Selo, a group of seventh-grade students took a foreign-literature exam that tested them on their reading.
Yuliya Kuryliuk, an educator and member of the “Teach For Ukraine” program, read the questions aloud from her notes since she was unable to print out the test pages.
One of them asked the children how John Boyne, author of “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas,” portrayed World War II in that 2006 Holocaust novel.
For these children, the war has already become part of their daily routine.
“I have a lamp that runs on batteries so I have no problem,” one child, Bohdan, told Efe when asked whether students are able to do their homework. Another student, Veronika, her voice tinged with emotion, recalled them hearing the sounds of explosions during a Russian missile strike in October.
The students appeared eager to share their experiences with Efe, although they have clearly been deeply affected by the armed conflict.
“The children between the ages of 11 and 14 are trying to escape reality. They spend much more time now glued to their phones, playing games and watching Tik-Tok,” said Kuryliuk, who admitted to having difficulty motivating them.
“Many of them ask what’s the point in studying if everything they have could be gone at any moment.”
She said she tells the children that Ukrainian soldiers, including their own parents, are fighting every day without respite to protect them and give them the chance for a peaceful future.
The teacher also encourages the students to express their opinions and feelings.
“These children are already very mature,” she said while showing Efe individual art summaries (one-page collages with drawings, magazine cutouts and single words such as “Bucha,” “exhausted,” “victory” and “peace”) prepared by a group of 11th-grade students.
That same class spent several weeks weaving a large camouflage net for soldiers. Dozens of students also took part in a fair in which they sold homemade cakes and sweets and raised 27,000 hryvnias ($731) to help buy a vehicle for the soldiers.
Much of the public-school system has suffered budget cuts, the school’s principal, Oksana Sukharyna, told Efe. Even so, all efforts have been made to provide a safe and comfortable environment for the children to study.
Whenever the lights go off, two generators are ready to spring into action to power the school’s heating system, while an air-raid shelter with space to house the school’s more than 200 students, as well as children from a nearby daycare, is available to use if necessary.
The absence of well-equipped bomb shelters is a major reason hundreds of Ukrainian schools have remained closed amid intense Russian airstrikes.
In much of Ukraine, especially in the regions closest to Russia, Belarus and the frontline, students continue their studies online, just as they did in the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic.