The Russian invasion of Ukraine began just over three months ago, on February 24th, 2022. The war has plagued the media, from interviews to statistics to live footage. As of April 20th, over 10 million inhabitants have been displaced. Many of these refugees, welcomed into neighboring countries such as Romania and Moldova, are children.
These displaced children were forced from their homes following the threat of attack or actual attack. The children still in Ukraine face similar disturbances, forced to sleep in train stations or other community safe spots, subject to wailing sirens at all hours of the day. Ukrainian children have been uprooted and placed in an environment with no semblance of normalcy. Their homes, loved ones, and cherished possessions are now gone. But Ukraine and its citizens are attempting to bring power back to their youth.
Ukraine has lost thousands of schools since the war’s start, but its people have continued to pursue knowledge and curiosity. In a TED Talk from educational leader Zoya Lytvyn on April 14th, she said, “As long as our children keep learning and our teachers keep teaching—even while they are starving in shelters under bombardment, even in refugee camps—we are undefeated.” Along with its neighboring nations, the Ukrainian government has established many ways in which education for youth continues despite the conflict that rages on around them.
One of these ways is one that many American students are familiar with: virtual instruction. In fact, the majority of Ukrainian schools have turned to online learning during the crisis. Through live streaming platforms, children can connect with familiar faces, listen to books read aloud by the teacher, and participate in tasks that allow stability and routine. Some teachers have gone above and beyond, scheduling meetups at local community centers or school libraries, where children can play board games and talk with one another. Some educators have even volunteered to visit refugee camps in other countries. The goal of these educators is to alleviate the psychological impact of armed conflict, one that is similar to that of emergency support such as evacuation and humanitarian aid.
The Safe Schools Declaration, an intergovernmental political commitment to protect educational institutions from danger, is one of many acts the Ukrainian government is fighting to uphold. Displaced children are provided opportunities to join their classmates back home over Zoom, regain a sense of unity and familiarity, and exist in safe spaces to escape their realities and explore the educational world. Education is one of the many ways Ukraine is attempting to rebuild. With education, children, no matter their circumstances, are allowed to feel heard and secure.
Through Teen Lenses: Do you believe Ukraine should continue to educate its children amidst the current war? If yes, why do you think so, and how do you think it should be done?
“Yes, because education, no matter how little or how warped, is important for their future and their development as individuals. Education allows people to form their own ideas and not to become dependent on others for their needs. I don’t know exactly how it should be implemented, but I believe the best help they can receive would be from organizations like UNESCO or help within the refugee camps.”
Shreya Gurumoorthy, 17, Junior at Westfield High School, Chantilly, Virginia
“I believe the education of Ukrainian children should be put on hold for the time being. Currently, Ukrainian children are being forced to take on numerous responsibilities and mature so rapidly. They are facing extreme circumstances, circumstances that take an emotional toll. For their own safety and for their emotional stability, I feel it is most important for them to be with their loved ones during these trying times, not in school.”
Tisha Shah, 17, Junior at Westfield High School, Chantilly, Virginia
“My immediate response to this question was, “Well, of course, education is crucial to the wellbeing of children. We absolutely should not deny accessible education to young victims of war. Without education, we would not have a stable global society.” I was forced to also, however, recognize the nuance of the matter. From the perspective of a child, the chaos of war is already so overwhelming. The stress of an education during a time in which your very right to life is not certain seems irrational. Children deserve a limited time away from school under emergency circumstances, but they also crave routine amidst uncertainty. If I’m being perfectly honest, I am quite unsure how to execute a balance between security and education, especially when education is considered to be a tool to protect future security.
Gayatri Kamtala, 16, Junior at Westfield High School, Chantilly, Virginia