collaboration with  
/ Save the Children Ukraine 

The International Day of Peace is a special and full of hopes day for children from the east of Ukraine living in the close proximity to the contact line. In the span of over 6 years, nearly 750 schools have been damaged or destroyed hindering the access to safe and quality education for 670 000 girls and boys. On this day, the work of School Safety Committees is worth to be mentioned, their aspirations for “normal” childhood despite the ongoing conflict. Drawing maps of risks, creating School Codes of Conduct, safety protocols and other serious documents they do their contribution to turn their Schools into Zones of Peace. The Schools as Zones of Peace project is functioning thanks to the generous support from EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) and Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ihor*, 14. When the war started, I was finishing the 2nd grade of school. I was very scared. We had to move to another country. When I could not go to school, I did not know what to do as I did not have a hobby or a sport to play. But I met friends who taught me to play checkers and football and I started developing new skills in these games. When we got back home, I was scared, window glass was shaking from the explosives. There were times when we had to spend a night in the basement. Every time I want to get away, I go to play either football or checkers, and I am getting better and better in this.  We with my friend understand that if we want a brighter future we need to do something for this. We regularly clean the lake in our village picking up the garbage from it. We believe it matters.

Nazar*, 14. I was 8 when the war started in summer 2014. I felt the explosions were getting closer and closer as the earth was constantly shaking and then a “boom” sound. It was scary. My dad dug a bomb shelter. I did not go out to play. Sometimes I stayed in the yard, but when the familiar sound was heard, my dad was shouting “Air raid alarm, everyone get to the bomb shelter!” I believe in a better future, however, I would feel safer if our school had a bomb shelter.  We fled the war for a while and went to Kremenchuk. I got interested in mechanics there, and how bicycles work. I assembled one bicycle from different pieces on my own and I am still riding it. When we feel sad, we have a talk with my mum. It is important to talk. The war taught me to appreciate peace.

Olga*, 13. I learned what the word ‘war’ means when I was 7. When I graduated from 1st grade, we had to live in the basement for 10 days with the sound of grad rockets, machine-guns and tanks. There were times when we did not have electricity, gas or running water. We were sleeping wearing our hats and coats. During short breaks in shelling we were boiling kettle and cooking some food. We constantly had either candles burning or a flashlight turned on. I will never forget the 19th of January 2015, the grad rocket exploded 10 meters from our home. We did not abandon hope - it turned out that I can sing. While singing, I feel light and have confidence in the future. In the eyes of the audience, I always look for compassion and understanding; they have lived through fears too.

Marta *, 11. At 6, I was about to enter school, I was so curious how the school life would look like, who would be my teacher. But then the conflict started and I did not go to school that year as it was not safe. At the very beginning me, my mum and grandmother had to hide in the basement constantly. We had food, medicine, water, candles, and a prayer book there. My dad is a deminer [someone who removes explosive mines]. He was on a business trip back then and we could not reach him on the phone. Only a week later his colleague came and said that he was ok. Many times, the whole village was shelled and there were days when around 40 grad rockets fell around. However, thanks god, no one was killed. The fear we felt back then, it did not go away, it stays with us. I found healing in painting. The year I skipped school, I committed myself to painting. My parents supported me and my works were displayed in children`s hospitals in Lysychansk. I keep painting, as it calms me and gives me strength.  In the future, I would like to become a doctor-neonatologist and save the most vulnerable children.
Solomia*, 13. I was in my first years of school in 2014 and we could see the planes flying over our heads. The sky was pink and the sound of shelling was very loud. Now children have adapted to the situation but it is not ok for our psychological state. We do everything we can to keep up good spirits, and everyone has their coping strategy. I do sport, make hand-made dolls, and spend time with my mum. Saving all the positive moments and thoughts in my diaries.

Mariia*, 41. The first night of the conflict my daughter was sick, she had fever. It was a blessing in disguise as she slept the whole night, but I knew I would not be able to stay here.  At first, we moved to Kyiv and when we came back home the sound of explosions was still loud, however, we do our best to live here. I started working as a teacher again and we are constantly making our school safer. The School Safety Committee plays an important role in school life, including trainings, events and a theater performance. The committee helps children to find a common language between each other and with teachers and parents.

Vira* and Ira*, 10. Once our mom was braiding my sister`s hair and the window shattered and fell on them. The rocket fell near our yard. We often hid in the basement but did not feel safe there and it was dark. The only place where we felt safe was the school because there was a bomb shelter. We were scared to go to school and either our dad was carrying us or we were quickly running. There was a school bell notifying us that it was time to get down in the basement. In the evenings, when our dad was at work, we were painting, dancing and playing with our mum who is our hero and who saves other children with Save the Children. Now, even after we moved from Hirske (where direct shelling happened), every time we are scared, we either paint or put on loud music so we cannot hear loud sounds. We paint almost every day. We forget about everything when we paint and we concentrate on what is in the picture, which colour to select, and what the topic will be for this or another picture. Now we like to draw colourful pictures, it was not like that before. We would like to have a school where it is safe and we could feel secure. For instance, a school in the clouds, safeguarded by unicorns.

Miriam*, 16. The wounds of the armed conflict are quite deep. A child will tell you I am not scared, but if you start asking more detailed questions, children start crying. It is somewhere very deep inside. I moved very far from the conflict to Kyiv for a year, and I was trembling there from each and every loud sound. Recently, there was a thunder storm but it reminded me of 2014.  It is good that children do not give up and look for opportunities to get distracted. You spend 11 years of life within the walls of the school; this is a long time. The school needs to be a safe haven for children. With our School Safety Committee we do a lot of good stuff to make our school safer.  We would like to have hopes for better, and we would like to believe that there will be peace. I dream that when I grow up and have my own children, I would like to send them only to a school in Ukraine.

*All names has been changed to protect identity

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