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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
Meet Sonia from Ukraine

School is meant to be a safe place. Within those walls, generations of students have discovered their passions and laid the foundations for the rest of their lives. But what happens when those walls are torn down?

On 24 February 2022, Sonia – a 14-year-old student from Irpin, near Kyiv, Ukraine – woke up in a country under attack. That morning, she received a message from her teacher: “children, stay at home.” She realised that in just a matter of minutes, her education and entire way of life had been turned upside-down.

The ongoing war in Ukraine is taking a heavy toll on the country. The constant bombing has caused damage across society, including to public infrastructure such as hospitals, transport, and schools.

As a result, thousands of students have experienced massive disruption to their education and for many young people, like Sonia, this has put their futures in jeopardy.

Getting a good and continuous education is key to helping Sonia fulfil her ambition of being a psychologist. She works hard studying mathematical and scientific subjects such as algebra, geometry, biology and chemistry to obtain the qualifications she needs to follow this career path.

The war in her country has further strengthened her determination to train in this field: “I want to help people who were under the occupation, who saw things with their own eyes which they should not have seen,” she says. “People are not speaking the same way as before the war.”

Maintaining education in adverse conditions

Sonia escaped Irpin with her godfather the day after the invasion started. She remembers the gunfire echoing around her as they left the city.

At first, they fled to Zhytomyr, a city west of Kyiv, but after realising they were still not safe, they travelled south to a small village near the Moldovan border.

Much like the situation during the COVID-19 pandemic, schools in Ukraine relied on the Internet to ensure that the education of young people was not adversely affected.

“Education restarted a month after the war began and, of course, it was online,” explains Sonia. “We were treated very well, and the teachers were not nervous – they repeated everything as many times as we needed it.”

Despite this, Sonia prefers learning in person for the personal element it brings. “When we were at school, face-to-face, it was much easier to understand everything,” she says.

“Our school will be rebuilt and I hope that everything will be okay.”


Return, rebuild and recommence

“I came back to Irpin in May,” remembers Sonia. “On the first day back, I visited my school with my parents. It was horrific – I didn’t recognise it.”

For Sonia, the most nightmarish discovery was finding out that people killed in the war had been buried near the school grounds. She remembers feeling uncertain about how she could continue her education, given that her school lay in crumbling ruins.

But this is not the end of the story. Thanks to EU humanitarian support, hundreds of schools across Ukraine – including Sonia’s – are being rebuilt as new classrooms.

As a result, education can recommence in the country. For young people, this means they can realistically continue working towards their career ambitions – such as Sonia’s dream to become a psychologist.

“My class teacher is like my second grandmother. We have a wonderful relationship and she helps me. I really hope my school continues the educational process.”


Preparation for the future

The news that her school is being rebuilt is a big relief for Sonia. “We were told that as an 8th-grade pupil, I will go to school in the 9th or even 10th grade. I really hope that it will happen,” she says.

The horrors of the war made her realise how life happens only once. “We have to move forward, learn something new and improve ourselves. Sonia’s spirit is marked by incredible resilience and determination to make the most of her education.

The humanitarian support provided by the EU ensures that even in wartime, Ukrainian students can learn and build their future in safe places.

With schools being restored, Sonia and her friends are not left behind: they can go back to their desks and experience some semblance of normality. “I will make my children go to school to learn everything they want,” she says.

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