The beginning of the new school year in— or anywhere else — is usually filled with pomp and circumstance. This year, however, preparation for school meant the establishment of air raid shelters in several schools that are still standing. Students are also sent with emergency kits in case of a Russian missile strike.
One student, Sophia, who was going to school for the first time, was sent with two bags: one for class and one for emergencies.
She and her classmates began their first day with a ceremonial welcome, taking turns ringing the school bell in a ritual of peace.
But even her first day was filled with emotion, when tears welled up at the mention of her father, who is serving on the front line of the war with Russia. He couldn’t be there on the first day of school and she said she missed him.
Many schools across the country have been destroyed – often deliberately targeted – by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s missiles. Schools cannot open unless they have air raid shelters.
Another student, 16-year-old Vera, narrowly escaped having to study the Kremlin’s new curriculum after her hometown of Izjum was liberated after nearly six months of Russian occupation.
“I was so sad the whole time,” she said. “I just wanted everything to be like it was before the war, and I was terribly afraid.
In a village that has been in Russia’s firing line for more than half a year, 8-year-old Taya and her 6-year-old best friend Nastya are the only children left in their neighborhood after many families fled. They say the sound of shelling was hard to get used to at first, but now they hardly flinch.
“When it happened, when we were playing outside, we hugged each other tightly and said how much we wanted this war to end,” Taya said.