The lesson begins, the digital class is composed on screen, as it did in the months of the pandemic, and all, or almost all, of the students appear in the boxes. It is still “distance learning”, but in Ukraine this term has now taken on a more literal meaning than ever before. Among the classmates, there are those who connect from the new residence where they are displaced, in some western region of the country. There are those who connect from abroad: Poland, Romania or Italy, where they have just been welcomed. But there are also students who appear on video in dim light from a basement, in the basement under the house, because the air defense siren has sounded the alarm again and it is necessary to seek cover. “From the teachers we hear stories of lessons taking place while some children are still under bombardment, and from the basement they are still connected online, despite the sirens.
They are trying to follow the lessons of the shelters, “said Yuliia Skorykh, coordinator of psychological support activities at the Ukrainian non-profit organization” East-Sos “in Kiev. Part of the NGO’s activity is dedicated to supporting teachers, including online meetings with psychologists and counselors, an emergency line, and confidential webinars. Currently, schools throughout Ukraine work only online, no face-to-face lessons, not even in conflict-ridden regions. It’s not just a matter of the risk of sitting in the classroom. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, many schools have been used as information centers, refueling, shelters or for military purposes. Even worse, some no longer exist, destroyed or damaged by heavy artillery and air strikes.
According to the surveillance of the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science, 1,635 schools, universities, kindergartens and other institutes suffered damage. Of these, 126 were completely destroyed, especially in the eastern regions. “In the Luhansk region, we have worked for six years with 40 schools close to the front line, which was drawn in the war in 2014. Many have now been razed to the ground in cities like Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Rubizhne, Popasna,” adds Yulia Kishenko, who for “East Sos” coordinates the field of education. “Other institutes in recent weeks have gone under Russian control. In some, the occupying forces are demanding that they abandon the Ukrainian programs and adopt them from Moscow. But the schools, least of all those with whom we remain in contact, do not.” The information is confirmed by the Ministry: “In the temporarily occupied territories, school leaders are obliged to teach in Russian and according to the programs of the Russian Federation”. But “most of the teachers remain loyal to our state,” reports Education Minister Serhiy Shkarlet, speaking of “pride” and resistance, although we imagine the risk of being accused of “co-operation responsible for having a show weight .punishment ”, as the Minister himself reported in April.
“At the meetings we organize, the teachers confide in us that they experience emotional blackouts, they tell us not to feel emotions for two months, they tell us about physical problems, panic attacks, high fever: normal reactions in a situation that is not normal “continues Yuliia Skorykh, coordinator of psychological support. “They are called to lead classes where students experience states of anxiety, trauma, cry a lot and experience regressive processes where teens of thirteen or fourteen behave like children of only ten. Regression is normal under these circumstances, but teachers do not know how to deal with it. They know they have to prove they are strong and steadfast adults, but they feel they do not have the resources to do so as they struggle with private trauma and suffering.
So we work with both aspects of their identity, the more personal and the professional ». The psychologists from “East-Sos” advise to go beyond the topics of the program during the lessons and to “take care of the students not only as such, but as children and young people who need a love bond, even if it is online” Yuliia concludes Skorykh. “We invite you to ask important questions to establish an emotional connection, a warmer relationship. It can really make a difference to ask a child: how are you? Will you tell me how you felt this week? ‘