Since 2014, the conflict in Eastern Ukraine has destroyed, damaged or forced the closure of more than 750 schools, disrupting access to education for thousands of children, with many too scared to attend and distressed by the presence of armed soldiers in and around their schools.
Last UN figures show at least six educational facilities have faced shelling in recent days, leaving even more children without schools which will have a profound impact on their education. Two teachers were killed on Friday when a missile struck a school in Gorlovka in eastern Ukraine.
A kindergarten and an orphanage were among the buildings damaged on Friday in attacks in the northeastern city of Okhtyrka, with a seven-year-old girl among the six people killed, as reported by the UN.
Schools in eastern Ukraine closed on 21 February as hostilities escalated, leaving an estimated 350,000 children with no access to education. Some schools in other areas of Ukraine had closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic but others have remained open, with reports that some parents are sending their children wearing stickers denoting their blood type as they fear for their safety.
Save the Children said schools must be inviolable safe spaces for children and teachers, which are granted protection even in times of conflict.
Attacks against schools and hospitals are classified by the United Nations as one of the six grave violations committed against children[i].
Eva*, 15, said she had fled her village with her parents during a lull in shelling with her school hit in the attacks.
“But my grandparents, many children, my classmates, old people and people who have no opportunity to leave remained in the village,” she said in an audio testimony.
“From those who left the village, I know that almost every second house was damaged and our school also affected. There were direct hits on it.”
Irina Saghoyan, Save the Children’s Eastern Europe Director, said:
“Schools must not become the battlefields where wars are waged and students are the casualties. With every school that is damaged or destroyed, and every lesson missed, children’s prospects of experiencing and building a better future diminishes.
“Schools, teachers, and students must be protected from attack. The protection of civilians and essential civilian infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, must be the absolute priority of all parties - it is their legal obligation to minimise civilian suffering in this conflict.
“Save the Children is calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities, as the only way to protect children from violence and other violations of their rights.”
Save the Children has been operating in Ukraine since 2014, delivering essential humanitarian aid to children and their families. This includes supporting their access to education, providing psychosocial support, distributing winter kits and hygiene kits, and providing cash grants to families so they can meet basic needs such as food, rent and medicines, or so they can invest in new businesses.
To support Save the Children’s work in Ukraine donate here: www.savethechildren.org.au/ukraine
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Notes to Editors:
[i] The Six Grave Violations – Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (un.org)
In 2019 Ukraine was welcomed as the 100th country to commit to protecting students, teachers and their schools from the devastating effects of war by endorsing the Safe School Declaration, an inter-governmental political commitment to protect education during armed conflict.
Ref: OHCHR stats: Civilian casualties in the context of the Russian Federation’s military action against Ukraine: OHCHR | Home for further info.