Creativity Despite the War

In the first weeks after the outbreak of the war, the school in Khmelnytskyi turned into a volunteer hub to receive and distribute humanitarian aid and to organize camouflage nets weaving for the Army. According to the school Director Maryna Mykolaivna, this practice has been nothing new for the school: since 2014, when the war in Donbas began, they would borrow sewing machines from the classrooms to do the needlework for the military.  The whole city knew that the educational institution turned into the Army support center.

This year, a few days after the volunteer hub was opened, high school students came here to offer a helping hand. “They made us avoid a nervous breakdown,” says Maryna Mykolaivna. “When I saw our older and then younger students offering their help, I realized that everything would be fine in Ukraine if we had such children.”

The wartime cannot take away the need to create, and for children who survived the occupation and shelling, this is a vitally important recreational therapy. Therefore, in May 2022, the school in Khmelnytskyi reopened for students offline. Yet, according to the Director, both children and parents would not mind resuming studies much earlier.

In the early days of the war, the school team made a small shelter by themselves. They brought desks and arranged a water supply. Vocalists would come down there with their equipment to practice. The floor has been partially replaced, so you can also dance there. Of course, creative activities in conditions of crisis and lack of comfort can hardly be enjoyed, yet, some changes are underway to improve the shelter and make it a cozy place.

Thanks to the Safe School Project, we will now have a large well-equipped shelter, because both children and teachers need to feel safe,” says Maryna Mykolaivna. “However, the most important thing is that we will be able to conduct classes there in all subjects.”

The Director believes that all school principals should be interested in such a project, because it is important to ensure a continuous learning process in the offline mode. “Many schools can offer only online classes, because they have no shelters to accommodate all students,” says the Director. “Yet, the children must socialize, they have to communicate with their peers.”

In case of a power outage, the shelter is already equipped with the power generator. There is a bathroom and a medical office in it, as well as a play room and a well-equipped recreational area. The Director said that they wanted to create a space that does not look scary. Instead, it should be pleasant for students to be here. For example, children’s drawings were posted all around the walls. Most of the children’s drawings themes were the Motherland in blue and yellow colors. Marina Mykolaivna says that even the little ones wanted to do their part to make this space feel comfortable.

Stay Calm During Air Raids

As part of the Safe School Project implemented by East Europe Foundation, the school educators passed the training by psychologist Svitlana Royz on how to support children during air raids. The Director is already seeing the results: the proposed methods turned out to be very useful. The children love the song “Go for Shelter” created as part of the psychological support program so much that they sing it out loud during the siren. Breathing exercises by a psychologist also help relieve stress. This is especially important for displaced children who came to Khmelnitsky from the regions most affected by the war.

There are many displaced children here, but the school team deliberately does not keep records of them so as not to separate them from the rest. “They are all our children,” says Maryna Mykolaivna. Most of them resumed classes in the same subjects that they had at home. Yes, they joined news children’s teams, but, according to the Director, all the school teachers are “great fans of their work”, so it is really interesting for the children to engage with them. There are also several refugee teachers who were able to both quickly recruit students and win their hearts.

No matter how we distract displaced children from the experiences they went through in the area of hostilities, they keep on saying: “I can’t wait to see the victory. We like it here, but we really want to go home.” The city of Khmelnytskyi cannot replace their home, but it can give them security, new friends and mentors who make sure that the war does not deprive them of self-development. The Director says that the Armed Forces of Ukraine are also asking for this: “We are defending our independence here, and you, please, make sure that our children are both safe and having fun.”

The Safe School Program was initiated by East Europe Foundation to support the educational system in Ukraine to equip basic shelters with essential equipment to provide comfortable conditions for children, educators and other community members.

The Program is implemented by East Europe Foundation in cooperation with the State Emergency Service, the Ministries of Education and Science and Internal Affairs. We also express our gratitude to our partners for their support: Eurasia Foundation and Terre des Hommes, as well as companies EPAM Ukraine, Baker Tilly International and METRO Ukraine. The Program involves 28 educational establishments throughout Ukraine, three of which will become model schools for their peers and authorities.