Thursday was the first day of school for schools all across Ukraine. September 1st is the traditional start date each year and is called “The Day of Knowledge”. Classes don’t really begin until the 2nd, because the 1st is a ceremonial day. All schools have a “First Bell” ceremony to mark the beginning of the school year. At the First Bell ceremony, there are always different speakers and songs, and a parade of first graders who are just starting out on their school journey. There is always the Ukrainian flag and the national anthem. Everyone dresses up fancy, kids give flowers to their teachers and reunite with their classmates.
The First Bell is sometimes interesting, sometimes boring 😉, but always meaningful. It’s a special day and this year it was especially special and meaningful because a couple months ago we weren’t even sure it would be happening at all. In fact, for many Ukrainian schools across the country, it didn’t happen. We are among the most fortunate and I’m so thankful for that.
After lots of back and forth, praying and thinking, we decided to go ahead and put our three youngest kids back into school. Hava is in 7th class, Seth is in 6th, and Evie is in the preschool. The past 6 months have been so tumultuous. Our whole lives were turned upside down, inside out, and back again. Our kids have been incredibly brave and we are really proud of them, yet we also see the effects the war has had on them. They just really, really need stability right now and some sort of normalcy. After COVID and then the beginning of the war right when things were feeling quite normal again, they needed the comfort of waking up each morning and heading to school. They need interaction with teachers and time with their friends. They need to keep growing in their Ukrainian, and they need to not be sitting in front of a computer screen every single day. I just can’t with the distance learning. It does not work well for our family. 😂 The main thing is that we just have to keep living. The war has stolen so much from all of us. When there is an opportunity to live “normal” life we have to grab hold and run with it. So, on Thursday we went to the First Bell ceremony, and yesterday they began classes. Here we go! School is back in session.
In order for a school in Ukraine to be open for students to study in person it must first, exist at all, and second, it must have a bomb shelter in good repair, approved by the local board of education. The Kyiv Independent reported “As of Sept. 1, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said that at least 2,405 educational institutions including schools have been damaged or destroyed by Russia’s brutal war. According to the official, at least 270 of them have been completely destroyed. ” So many children are without schools, and even if they do have a school that is open, many parents are afraid to place their kids in school, unsure if their children will be safe, or if their school will also become a target of Russian aggression. Many of our kids’ best friends are still in Europe somewhere: Poland or Italy or Germany. I wonder if they will come back someday or if they will become just a memory in our children’s childhood. Seth is sad he never got to say goodbye. The classes at school are so small, but there is a special camaraderie amongst the parents who have chosen to be here in Ukraine and have chosen to put our kids in school. It feels like a defiance of sorts- Russia will not steal this from our children today. I feel resolute about the decision, but we’ll see how I feel when the first air raid siren goes off and I know my kids are down in the school bomb shelter. Will I be confident in our decision then? I hope so. We just have to trust that God is leading us and giving us wisdom. It’s definitely not an easy time to be a parent in Ukraine, to put it lightly.
Thursday was our family’s 8th First Bell ceremony here in Ukraine. It felt oddly normal, but there were also a lot of differences and if I paused to really think about them it was a little like “I can’t believe this is my life…” Like the moment when we toured the bomb shelter and discussed how many minutes it would take for a missile to strike from Belarus versus how many minutes it would take for all the kids to get from their classrooms to the shelters. Or the moment when we discussed what should be kept in the shelter for each child (a backpack with water, any prescription meds, nonperishable snacks, a card with the child’s name, birthdate, parents’ names and phone numbers). There is a public school nearby our little Catholic school and they don’t have a bomb shelter, so their first through fourth graders will meet in our school building as well. Two schools will be using one building- that should make for an interesting time…ha! There’s just nothing simple about any of this and everyone is just taking things one day at a time. Yesterday the kids were at school and hopefully, they will be on Monday too, but nothing is a given. War is unpredictable.
We are just super thankful that our kids have the opportunity to be in school. A few months ago that reality seemed unimaginable. Please pray for their safety and for the safety of children all over Ukraine. A whole generation is being shaped and formed during this time of war. I pray that they are formed into people who love justice, who see the value of human life, whose hearts are turned toward the Lord, and who will fight to make their country a better place.
Read this article from the Kyiv Independent to learn more about what returning to school looks like all over Ukraine: https://kyivindependent.com/national/children-go-back-to-school-as-russias-war-rages-on