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Kharkiv opens underground school to escape Russian bombs

Max Zander
May 21, 2024

Hundreds of children in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv are now attending in-person classes in Ukraine's first underground school. Located in a bunker 6 meters below ground, the school aims to provide a learning environment safe from Russian airstrikes.


[Video transcript]

It's the first day of school for these kids. They're third graders already, but have never sat in an actual classroom. 
First, because of COVID and then because of the war.
They're now able to study together — 6 meters below ground, protected by reinforced concrete, in the first permanent underground school in Ukraine. 
A bit unusual at first, but for kids like 9-year-old Sasha it feels safe from the bombs he's heard while studying at home. 
Sasha, Student: "When it was very loud, I would either run into the corridor or hide underneath the table. Near the wall, away from the window."
In general, public schools in Kharkiv do not operate in person. Even today there are students who are participating online. Parents like Sasha’s father worry about what this does to their children.
Serhii, father: "The war greatly affected the development of children. The war had a great impact on education. There must be a society for children. And the children have dreamed of meeting their classmates."
Down here the war remains on everyone's mind. 
The anthem plays, only to be followed by an air raid siren.
Nataliia Shvets, Teacher: "The anxiety is constant. It's always there. And as you see — constant air signals. We are constantly under stress, but we try to hold on. Of course, this is our choice. We are staying in Kharkiv, we have not gone abroad. This is our native home, our native school."
This underground facility is shared by multiple schools of the district. Classes have to take turns.
The city of Kharkiv is planning to build more such schools. 
For now, the kids can attend only once a week, time together they embrace with delight.
Above ground, there’s a semblance of normality today in Kharkiv. But many who lived here before the war have fled. Those who remain are trying to live their lives.
With the Russians close by, you don’t have to look far to see the ugly side of Kharkiv. 
In a residential neighborhood a glide bomb went down between houses.
Homes were destroyed, a family of five injured. Two of them teenagers who were in the garden and inside the house.
A bomb like this released by a plane needs about 5 minutes to hit the city. Kharkiv has little to no protection against these weapons. 
This war crime investigator tells us there have been 200 such attacks in the last 6 months. 
Spartak Borysenko, Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office: "More than one million civilians live in Kharkiv and they suffer from attacks every day. No one is safe from such strikes, as you can see that the time from the launch of the bombs to their arrival is very short and people do not have time to go to the shelter during the alarm."
Kharkiv matters to Ukraine — its history, culture, universities and industry. But, most importantly, it's home to those who live here — willing themselves to find ways to deal with the daily Russian terror.