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Ukrainian teachers adapt for classes on the frontline

Ukrainian teachers attending a masterclass during training course in Warsaw.
Ukrainian teachers attending a masterclass during training course in Warsaw. Copyright AFP
Copyright AFP
By Euronews with AFP
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Not far from the frontline in eastern Ukraine, the school in the industrial town of Kostiantynivka is bombed out but a handful of pupils are still attending class online.

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Children from "seven families are still there... despite what is happening," teacher Svitlana Dotsenko said, who fled to the southern city of Odesa with her son to escape the fighting and works remotely.

Keeping classes running nearly 17 months into Russia's invasion has pushed teachers to their limits as much as students, who are persevering with classes despite the odds.

Dotsenko is one of more than a thousand educators from Ukraine to take part in a course in the Polish capital, Warsaw, to take on the challenges of schooling in wartime.

Attendance in class can be patchy, according to Dotsenko, who teaches English.

Sometimes pupils are absent because the internet is unstable in Kostiantynivka, just 32 kilometres from Bakhmut, the scene of some of the most intense fighting of the war.

But just as often their failure to turn up to class online is because of the psychological stress - a problem the 45-year-old educator is learning how to cope with.

"Mostly, children close themselves off," participant Ganna Skydan said.

"They don't turn on the camera or microphone."

A few still engage with class but "there are those who have been through some stress and don't want to come out and make contact".

Occupied schooling

Skydan's town Tokmak in southern Ukraine was captured by Russian forces in the very early stages of the war, and she fled to Lviv in the west of the country shortly after.

She is still teaching her class despite the Russian occupation and threats to families from Russian soldiers.

In areas held by Moscow's forces, tens of thousands of children are pursuing their Ukrainian schooling online, the education ministry said last year.

Pupils sometimes double up on courses, Skydan said, who still runs classes from a distance.

"They attend Russian schools and later come to our classes. It's because parents are afraid that their children might be taken away."

Around four million secondary-level students went to classes during the last school year in exceptional circumstances, according to education ministry statistics.

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In the northeastern region of Kharkiv, authorities agreed earlier this month to allow traditional offline education to restart.

Schools would only be allowed to open, however, if they had a "specialised shelter" in case of attack, Kharkiv region governor Oleg Sinegubov said.

Despite the unpredictability of the conflict, many pupils have retained their focus and even shown an increased interest in their education, the teachers said.

The new attitude is noticeable in Dotsenko's virtual classroom.

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Sinegubov added: "Some children have even started to study better, pay more attention to their learning, and become more active." 

"Perhaps they realised the importance of such things."

Help for teachers

Sometimes, it is the teachers who need support, however.

Natalia Selivanova was just eight months into the job when the war started.

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"It is extremely difficult," the 27-year-old said, who draws inspiration from her class to keep going.

Trainer Liudmyla Klymenko said the British Council course in Warsaw also trained staff to create a feeling of safety in the classroom and to focus on the positive.

Klymenko said teachers must "help themselves first and foremost.. and also help their children cope with these conditions."

Tragic news from the frontline is commonplace, but Klymenko said the course focused on making sure "this trauma they have experienced does not leave such heavy traces for the future".

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"As we say, you have to put a mask on yourself first, only then can you help others."

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