Ukraine to build its first underground school in Kharkiv, official says

Ukraine’s eastern metropolis of Kharkiv will build the country’s first fully underground school to allow children to continue their education even in the face of Russian fire, the city’s mayor said.

“Such a shelter will enable thousands of Kharkiv children to continue their safe face-to-face education even during missile threats," mayor Ihor Terekhov wrote on Telegram.

More than 360 educational facilities have been destroyed while 3,417 suffered bombing and shelling in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February last year, the latest release from the country said.

Persistent attacks meant that only about a third of school-age children were fully attending classes in person and many were forgetting what they have already learnt, the Unicef said in its release last month, whose official figure of school destruction from the attack were four times higher.

It found that more than 1,300 schools have been totally destroyed in the 19 month-long-war.

"Inside Ukraine, attacks on schools have continued unabated, leaving children deeply distressed and without safe spaces to learn," it said.

"Not only has this left Ukraine’s children struggling to progress in their education, but they are also struggling to retain what they learnt when their schools were fully functioning," said Regina De Dominicis, Unicef regional director for Europe and Central Asia.

Beyond Ukraine, more than half of the children whose families have fled the conflict to seven countries are not enrolled in national education, Unicef said, citing language barriers and overstretched education systems.

“It is here that we plan to build the first underground school in Ukraine,” announced the Kharkiv mayor in his social media post. He, however, gave no detail on when the school would open and the number of students who would be able to enroll there.

The funding for schools would not be cut “by a single hryvnia” this year or next, said the mayor, adding that “Kharkiv is the most intelligent city in Ukraine”, reported The Guardian.

While many schools in the frontline regions have been forced to teach online throughout the war, Kharkiv has organised some 60 separate classrooms throughout its metro stations before the school year that started on 1 September, creating space for more than 1,000 children to study there.

"Lessons in the metro. Could you ever imagine that Ukrainian children will study in the underground? This is our reality now," Ukrainian interior minister Ihor Klymenko said.

According to the country’s education minister Oksen Lisovyi, 84 per cent of the schools in the country are now equipped with operational shelters.

“When he was studying online, there was not always an opportunity to get to a bomb shelter,” said Mariia Doloban, 32, whose eight-year-old son Oleksii started the year at a new school in capital Kyiv with a proper bomb shelter.

“But at school, he will take cover every time the air raid siren goes off.”

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, had a population of more than 1.4 million before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Parts of the city lie less than 35km from the Russian border and it has been subject to nearly daily Russian rocket and missile attacks that can hit before residents can reach shelters.

In the 24 hours to Monday, a civilian man died and several houses were damaged as a result of Russia’s shelling and rocket attacks, Oleh Sinehubov, the governor of the Kharkiv region of which the city of Kharkiv is its administrative centre, said.

Additional reporting from the agencies