Russian forces have destroyed or damaged thousands of schools since invading Ukraine. But the harms to the country’s education system go far beyond damaged buildings. Experts say schooling is suffering in extreme ways, even for those who fled the country.
One example is nine-year-old Milana Minenko. She now lives in Poland after fleeing the war in Ukraine with her mother in March 2022. A Russian missile struck the family home on the second day of the war. Milana’s school was also destroyed.
Now Milana attends a public school in Poland. Her mother helps her follow lessons in the evening to keep up with schooling back home. There is no time — and no money — for anything else.
Government officials say Russian forces have destroyed 262 educational buildings and damaged another 3,019. But even for those who have fled to other countries, schooling is suffering in unprecedented ways. Families, educators and experts say that for refugees, the effects of war and moving to a new place make studying in a new country even harder.
Officials in Ukraine have said they have attempted to keep education a priority in the country. They say the young generation of Ukrainians will need to be well educated to help rebuild the country after the war.
Ukraine’s government says at least 500 children have been killed in the war. Thousands more have been sent to Russia without permission.
About 1.5 million refugees live in Poland, the most of any country. Many chose it because it is close to Ukraine and they plan to go back home someday. In Poland, children are not required to attend local schools. But school is required in Germany and some other countries.
The United Nations children’s organization UNICEF estimates fewer than half of child refugees in Poland attend schools. That is about 180,000 students. Many do not speak Polish. About 30 percent of children from Ukraine studying in Polish school systems are also studying Ukrainian lessons online, UNICEF says.
The numbers drop with older students, with just 22 percent of Ukrainian teens in Poland attending the country's schools.
Students following lessons in two languages have more difficulties in school. This is in addition to problems students have dealing with the move to another country and the trauma of war. Many refugee families have moved several times within Poland.
Students trying to keep up with Ukrainian schoolwork abroad can still experience the effects of war at home. Polina Plokhenko is a 16-year-old who left her Polish high school to work on online lessons with her Ukrainian school on the frontline in Kherson. Bombs often send her teachers fleeing into shelters.
“It is hard because it is my last year of school, and I needed to learn a lot of information by myself,” Polina said. Since age 11 she has wanted to study acting at a Kyiv university.
This month, Polina is taking Ukraine's final state examination, which students must pass to enter universities. It is being given in 47 cities in 30 countries, said Maryna Demyanchuk. She is a professor who helped organize the exam at a center in Warsaw.
To prepare, Polina attends Saturday classes at one of three Ukrainian schools set up in Poland by the group Unbreakable Ukraine. Viktoriia Gnap is the group’s founder. She said the schools’ teachers, who are also refugees, think the overall level of student knowledge is quite low. But the group’s goal is to provide a high-quality education, even with a very limited budget.
Some Ukrainian students are becoming better at speaking Polish, and plan to attend universities there. Others still feel disconnected from Poland. Some refugees have been bullied.
Milana’s mother, Oksana, said she looks forward to the day when her family can return home, “so that my child can go to her teacher and hug her.” She added, “That's what she dreams of.”
I’m Dan Novak.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.
Words in This Story
unprecedented — adj. never having happened before
priority — n. something that is very important and that must be dealt with before other things
trauma — n. severe shock caused by an bad experience
bully — v. to intentionally frighten someone who is smaller or weaker than you