It's the first day of school.
Even as fierce battles raged in the east and south of Ukraine, many Ukrainian children returned to classrooms for the first time since their offline education was disrupted by the full-scale war.
While Education Minister Serhiy Shkarlet said nearly 3 million school-aged children were able to go back to education online by late March, a majority of whom had to flee their homes seeking safety, the whole idea of reopening schools sounded surreal at the time.
In a show of resilience despite the ongoing threat of indiscriminate Russian missile strikes that have hit civilian infrastructure in normally quiet cities, including a July attack on Vinnytsia with a death toll of 26, schools opened their doors on Sept. 1. Many schools are offering a dual-format where children can also resume education online at the request of their parents.
Parents have mixed opinions about the government’s decision to reopen schools. Some are in favor of it, arguing that it’s important for children to be in a social environment where they learn how to make friends and interact with others.
But there are also those who are against it, with a petition demanding a ban on full-time in-school education gaining over 26,000 signatures. Many parents expressed worries that it would put psychological stress on young children and could compromise their safety.
Only schools with bomb shelters that fulfill the government-established safety requirement were allowed to welcome children inside. In weeks leading to the start of the school year, minister Shkarlet said that about 41% of Ukraine’s educational institutions, including schools and universities, can reopen in September amid war.
Schools also offered orientation days for parents so they can visit classrooms and bomb shelters, in a move to help them decide whether they would feel comfortable sending their children there.
Read more: Many Ukrainian schools to reopen this week as Russia’s war continues
Tens of thousands of school-aged children are living near the front line in heavily shelled areas. In war-torn Donetsk Oblast in Ukraine’s east alone there are 50,000 children, according to Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Office.
As of Sept. 1, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said that at least 2,405 educational institutions including schools have been damaged or destroyed by Russia’s brutal war. According to the official, at least 270 of them have been completely destroyed.
In Kyiv, a metropolis further from the battlefields where the last missile strike had occurred in late June, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said that 95% of all schools were planning to open both online and offline.
Across the nation, there will be 3,500 schools reopening out of a total of 12,900, Deputy Minister of Education and Science Andriy Vitrenko said on television on Sept. 1.
As the new unusual academic year kicked off, Vitrenko also said that there were 300,000 fewer students resuming education than in the previous year.