Popasna's teachers don't give up. What happens to school education in the city on the contact line
The Popasna community in the Luhansk Region has been periodically shelled from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine for eight years. The contact line passed just four kilometres from the city of Popasna, which had a population of around 14,000 people. But over the past few years, shells have exploded only on the outskirts. Sometimes — in some settlements of the community.
However, everything changed after February 24. Now the city is destroyed, most of the inhabitants have left for safer places, and since May 8, Popasna has been under the control of the Russian invaders.
Olena Lahutina, Head of the Department of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports of the Popasna Military and Civil Administration, told how to teach children in such conditions, what has changed for teachers and what will happen next with education.
Since the beginning of 2020, there have been significantly more attacks. But the locals got used to it: shops and transport worked, and children went to educational institutions. Popasna was constantly developing: funds were allocated for the repair of roads, and social, educational and cultural institutions, new playgrounds and stadiums were built, and modern equipment was purchased for lyceum schools.
"On February 24, the Head of the community called the leaders together for a meeting. He reported that russia attacked Ukraine and launched missile strikes on many large settlements," recalls Olena Lahutina.
For two days, educational institutions still worked as usual and then switched to distance learning. By March 3, russian separatist forces shelled the community in a manner traditional for the inhabitants of Popasna. But then they made hell.
The invaders began shelling residential buildings, pharmacies, and health and education institutions. In addition to the fact that there were constant explosions of artillery shells and mortars, every 10-15 minutes the city was covered with multiple launch rocket systems.
Residents were in bomb shelters, basements and their homes. Gradually, shops, pharmacies, healthcare, education and social institutions stopped working. Until mid-March, all emergency services — ambulance, firefighters, rescuers, police, power engineers, water workers, and gas workers — tried to work. But they constantly came under fire, and the equipment failed.
Directors of educational institutions, like everyone else, had no right to force employees to risk their lives and go to work. When heavy shelling began in early March, distance learning was stopped.
However, the heads of lyceum schools and kindergartens came to work every day, inspecting the damage and making sure there was no looting. There were eight educational institutions in the Popasna community. Now all of them are destroyed.
For some time, teachers of Lyceum No. 1 even managed to conduct training in the institution's bomb shelter. But when the walls are constantly shaking from explosions and the light disappears, neither children nor teachers have enough nerves for a long time.
"Then the director of Lyceum No. 1, together with her son, who was a teacher there, enlisted in the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and went to defend the country," says Olena.
Teachers left Popasna to save the lives of themselves and their loved ones. At the end of March, the city was left completely without electricity, water, gas, mobile and internet connections. Then Olena also went to a safe place — she was taken out by neighbours in a car. Buildings, equipment and documents of institutions were destroyed by enemy shells. But something managed to be saved.
Since the educational accounting department of the community was not centralized, some institutions had problems with paying salaries. The destroyed documents and electronic keys had to be restored. The procedure was complicated by the fact that the manager had to go through registration together with the accountant. Since everyone left for different localities, it took time to complete the necessary documentation. But within a month, they managed to do it.
"In April, heads of education institutions managed to find and establish contact with almost all teaching staff and students. But some of them, unfortunately, are still missing. And there are about 7% of them. Someone else remains in the community where there is no Internet or telephone connection. Someone was taken by the invaders to the temporarily occupied territories."
Olena says that by May, almost all classes managed to establish distance learning. All students will receive appropriate graduation certificates — teachers have informed their parents about this.
But what will happen next with the Department of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports of the Popasna Military and Civil Administration is unknown. The city is completely destroyed. Residents have left, and some of them are abroad. So far, it is not clear how the fate of teachers of the Popasna community will develop in the next academic year, but they do not give up and believe that, despite everything, they will definitely return and rebuild their community, their education sector and their lives.
Writer: Yaroslav Nesterenko
All photos from local Facebook groups and sources of Popasna City