To provide a safe educational environment for its children during wartime conditions, Ukrainians are going to hold offline, in-person classes in what constitutes combination school/bomb shelter facilities built underground.

Ukraine estimates that almost 3,500 educational institutions have suffered from bombing and shelling since Russia’s full-scale invasion, of which more than a thousand have been destroyed, an assessment supported by the latest UNICEF report.

The eastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, is less than 35 km from the Russian border. It had a population of more than 1.4 million before Russia started its full-scale invasion and has suffered from Russian missile attacks on an almost daily basis, with yet more attacks on Monday. The Kharkiv metro station has proved the ultimate refuge for its citizens over the last 19 months.


The scale of Moscow’s continuing attacks means that almost two-thirds of children in Ukraine are unable to attend classes in person. This followed the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and, as a result, many children are forgetting what they have already learned.

Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF regional director for Europe says that the war has not only “left Ukraine’s children struggling to progress in their education, but they are also struggling to retain what they learned when their schools were fully functioning.”

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Kharkiv has tried to limit the number of school children having to learn online by organizing around 60 separate classrooms at five stations along its metro system. This has created space for more than 1,000 children to study there.

“Lessons in the metro. Could you ever imagine that Ukrainian children will study in the underground? This is our reality now,” Ukraine’s interior minister Ihor Klymenko said.


A lesson in a school in a metro station in Kharkiv. Photo: Ukraine Ministry of Internal Affairs

The Mayor of Kharkiv, Ihor Terekhov, announced on his Telegram channel on Sunday that his council will continue to invest in education. “We will not reduce educational expenditure by a single hryvnia this year or next.

“In addition, we are planning to build the first underground school in Ukraine, which will meet the most modern regulatory requirements for protective structures. Such a shelter will allow thousands of Kharkiv children to continue their safe face-to-face education even during missile threats.”

The mayor did not provide details on when the school will open but his comments about Kharkiv’s 2023-24 education budget suggested it could be in the coming year according to the independent, Russian-language news site Meduza on Tuesday.

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