ON THE CONTACT LINE

EDUCATION CANNOT WAIT STEPS UP TO HELP CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS IN UKRAINE DEAL WITH THE SCARS OF WAR

The testimonies from children cited in this story were collected by UNICEF and photographer Ashley Gilbertson for the December 2017 story Scars of War, and the May 2018 UNICEF story Schools on the Firing Line.

Imagine going to a school where every day you hear bombs exploding. Imagine riding your bike to class past thousands of rounds of unexploded ordnance, blown out buildings and land mines.

Lera Nagormay, 10, sits for a photograph in a classroom at school in Marinka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, Wednesday 22 November 2017. When conflict broke out in 2013, Marinka was heavily contested. "One time, when I walked to school" Lera says, “when I arrived all the kids were already in the shelter. Shelling had started while I was on my way, and I had to rush in there. The school still has weekly drills, corralling students into the bunker beneath the building. In a long cold room, seats line one wall for the smaller children. "Sometimes we bring our toys down here so we don't get bored waiting," Lera says. Today, a police officer wearing camouflage and armed with a rifle stands guard in the lobby of the school. After one child was shot in the arm in the playground, children are not permitted to play outside. Field trips are out of the question due to the risk posed by mines and unexploded ordnance. "We have to stay inside the school all the time, and are not allowed to play outside during the breaks. The boys play football in the school's corridors" Lera says, "they can't break the windows because of the sandbags." As of December 2017, the situation in eastern Ukraine remains volatile, and violence continues despite the latest ceasefire agreements committed on 19 July 2017. The lives of children and their families, especially those living along the contact line continue to be at risk. According to a December 2017 report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, millions of people are continuing to suffer unnecessarily due to the entrenched political impasse and the ongoing armed conflict. Despite many attempts at a ceasefire, hostilities continue with almost daily shelling, frequent localized clashes, and rapidly escalating mine and unexploded ordinance contamination. The conflict has taken a severe toll on the education system, affecting students, teachers, administration and education facilities, hundreds of which hav
Lera Nagormay, 10, in a classroom in Marinka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, as photographed by UNICEF on Wednesday 22 November 2017. After one child was shot in the arm in the playground, children are not permitted to play outside. Field trips are out of the question due to the risk posed by mines and unexploded ordnance. Photo © UNICEF/UN0150817/Gilbertson V.

 

 

This is just part of everyday life for the girls and boys living on the Contact Line in the Ukraine. For the past five years, the Contact Line has been ground zero in a war that separates Government Controlled Areas and Non-Government Controlled Areas, and affects over 700,000 school children, adolescents and teachers in over 3,500 educational facilities.

For children like 14-year-old Aleksey, this conflict is taking a severe toll. Aleksey saw something shiny fall off a military vehicle. Thinking it was a pen, he picked it up. The ordnance blew two of his fingers and his thumb right off.

© UNICEF/UN0150855/Gilbertson VII Photo
Aleksey as photographed by UNICEF in 2017. Photo © UNICEF/UN0150855/Gilbertson V.

“My whole life has changed. I can’t do everything I could do before without my fingers, but I’m getting used to it. I’m learning how to write with my left hand, it’s not very good yet, but I’m trying. Sometimes I’m getting upset up until the moment when I break into tears,” says Aleksey.

“The situation here is very different from many of the other protracted crises which Education Cannot Wait is supporting,” said Graham Lang, Senior Advisor for Education Cannot Wait, a new global fund hosted by UNICEF that seeks to mobilize US$1.8 billion for 8.9 million children like Aleksey by 2021.

“As I visited schools on a recent visit along the Contact Line, I was struck by the blunt impact war is having on the children living here. With constant shelling, and a culture of fear, violence and inhumanity, the psychosocial health and well being of the students, teachers and families living along the Contact Line is dire,” Lang said.

Since January 2017, 58 education facilities have been damaged and 65 schools have been closed in this area. Some children have lost their lives.

Misha, as photographed by UNICEF in December 2017. Photo ©UNICEF/UN0150916/ Gilbertson VII Photo
Misha, as photographed by UNICEF in December 2017. Photo ©UNICEF/UN0150916/ Gilbertson V.

Others like Misha, 9, who was hit by shell fragments and had to have shrapnel removed from his brain in 2016, will have to live with the scars of war – forever.

After years of fighting, the boy has become used to the violence: “It’s not that scary here. I’m already used to shootings. They do it at night. When the shelling starts, I hide under my blanket, but I don’t think it will protect me.”

“Let me make it clear, it’s not normal for children and adolescents to become used to shooting and the constant sounds of shelling.  They need support in dealing with the psychological toll that this situation exerts on them and education is at the forefront of this response,” said Lang.

Despite the constant shelling, Ukraine has a functioning education system. Teachers are well trained, they get paid, there are resources and support.

This said, for the children and adolescents living on the Contact Line, education is at risk. Safety and well-being are at risk. And with the coming harsh winter, things are about to get a lot more complicated.

“This is about childhood being ripped away. It’s about lost youth. And it’s about the potential catastrophic impacts connected with an entire generation growing up with the horrors of war,” said Lang.

A CHANCE TO PLAY

Lera Nagormay, 10, walks in a hallway at school in Marinka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, Wednesday 22 November 2017. When conflict broke out in 2013, Marinka was heavily contested. "One time, when I walked to school" Lera says, “when I arrived all the kids were already in the shelter. Shelling had started while I was on my way, and I had to rush in there. The school still has weekly drills, corralling students into the bunker beneath the building. In a long cold room, seats line one wall for the smaller children. "Sometimes we bring our toys down here so we don't get bored waiting," Lera says. Today, a police officer wearing camouflage and armed with a rifle stands guard in the lobby of the school. After one child was shot in the arm in the playground, children are not permitted to play outside. Field trips are out of the question due to the risk posed by mines and unexploded ordnance. "We have to stay inside the school all the time, and are not allowed to play outside during the breaks. The boys play football in the school's corridors" Lera says, "they can't break the windows because of the sandbags." As of December 2017, the situation in eastern Ukraine remains volatile, and violence continues despite the latest ceasefire agreements committed on 19 July 2017. The lives of children and their families, especially those living along the contact line continue to be at risk. According to a December 2017 report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, millions of people are continuing to suffer unnecessarily due to the entrenched political impasse and the ongoing armed conflict. Despite many attempts at a ceasefire, hostilities continue with almost daily shelling, frequent localized clashes, and rapidly escalating mine and unexploded ordinance contamination. The conflict has taken a severe toll on the education system, affecting students, teachers, administration and education facilities, hundreds of which have sustained damage
Lera Nagormay, 10, walks in a hallway at school in Marinka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, Wednesday 22 November 2017. When conflict broke out in 2013, Marinka was heavily contested. “One time, when I walked to school” Lera says, “when I arrived all the kids were already in the shelter. Shelling had started while I was on my way, and I had to rush in there.”  Photo © UNICEF/UN0150820/Gilbertson V.

Lera Nagormay is a bright-eyed ten-year-old living on the Contact Line.

“We have to stay inside the school all the time, and are not allowed to play outside during the breaks. The boys play football in the school’s corridors. They can’t break the windows because of the sandbags,” says Lera.

With a US$1.4 million investment from our First Emergency Response window, Education Cannot Wait has already reach over 74,000 children, adolescents and teachers. This support – reached though a mixture of rehabilitation of learning facilities coupled with training of teachers on non-formal and life-skills education, including psychosocial support and promoting schools as zones of peace – was deployed through UNICEF and Save the Children. The funding ran until August 2018 and a new request has been made to support the 2019-2020 Humanitarian Response Plan to the Ukraine crisis.

“Responding to prolonged conflicts like this can’t just happen with one-off responses, however. We are planning to work with a broad group of relevant actors to support Ukraine to develop a multi-year-response programme. As we do this, we will be sharing the approach and tools used from other multi-year resilience programmes and helping to mobilize resources from potential donors,” said Lang.

Despite verbal assurances and commitments from the Government, Ukraine has yet to sign on to the Safe Schools Declaration, which “provides countries the opportunity to express support for protecting education from attack during times of armed conflict; the importance of the continuation of education during war; and the implementation of concrete measures to deter the military use of schools.”

By endorsing the declaration, Ukraine would send a clear signal and take a strong stance to affirm its commitment to protect the lives of children and their right to education.

“Education goes beyond schools. It is also about a sense of normalcy for children, adolescents and their communities, and a reassuring factor for peacebuilding for children themselves despite the trauma they go through every single day,” said Lang.

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First graders raise their hands in a classroom where the windows have been covered with sandbags, at a school in Marinka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, Wednesday 22 November 2017. The school is guarded by an armed police officer and ever since one of the children was shot in the arm while playing in the playground, students are no longer permitted to play outside. During breaks, children play soccer and ping pong in the hallways. "They can’t break the windows because they’re covered by sandbags” says Lera, a student at the school. “Once they broke a light bulb, and the cleaning lady was unhappy,” she adds. Marinka is one of a number of towns situated directly on the contact line which divides government and non-government controlled areas in eastern Ukraine and where fighting is most intense between the Ukrainian Army and non-government forces. In some areas, just 200 meters separate the line, and shelling and gunfire are reported on an almost daily basis by monitors for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Civilians live throughout this active combat zone. As of December 2017, the situation in eastern Ukraine remains volatile, and violence continues despite the latest ceasefire agreements committed on 19 July 2017. The lives of children and their families, especially those living along the contact line continue to be at risk. According to a December 2017 report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, millions of people are continuing to suffer unnecessarily due to the entrenched political impasse and the ongoing armed conflict. Despite many attempts at a ceasefire, hostilities continue with almost daily shelling, frequent localized clashes, and rapidly escalating mine and unexploded ordinance contamination. The conflict has taken a severe toll on the education system, affecting students, teachers, administration and education facilities, hundreds of which have sustained damage. Education fac
First graders raise their hands in a classroom where the windows have been covered with sandbags, at a school in Marinka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, as photographed by UNICEF on Wednesday 22 November 2017. Photo © UNICEF/UN0150820/Gilbertson V.

 

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