As Ukraine's children head back to class this fall, UNICEF is building more bomb shelters in school basements, part of a larger effort to protect kids growing up in a war zone.
For the second time since the escalation of the war in February 2022, children across Ukraine are starting a new academic year under threat of attack. Having a school bomb shelter has become a prerequisite for in-person learning.
At a kindergarten in Slavutych, northern Ukraine, children spend their rest hour tucked into cribs and beds in a basement bomb shelter renovated by UNICEF with financial support from the European Union.
Nap times interrupted by air raid warnings are a fact of life for children in Ukraine
"Sometimes an air alarm occurs when the kids just fell asleep," says teacher Oksana Topchii. "By waking them up, we cause a lot of stress for them. That's why we always go down to the shelter, so they can sleep there. Children bring their toys."
The shelters are child-friendly and safe, providing a sense of comfort for little learners. A cheerful mural featuring a smiling cartoon ant welcomes students to the basement shelter in Slavutych. The teachers tell the children they're "going to see the ant" as they head underground.
Strengthening children's resilience by helping them cope with adversity
"This is how the basement looked a couple of months ago," says Slavutych's mayor, Yurii Fomichov, pointing to a dirt-floored crawl space with exposed pipes overhead. "And now we have a comfortable, wonderful shelter. We couldn't have done this project by ourselves."
"We teach our kids not to be afraid of anything," says Topchii. "We try to stay optimistic and believe in our victory."
See inside a kindergarten bomb shelter
Work has been completed on the rehabilitation of 28 school bomb shelters; more are underway. UNICEF also provides blast-resistant protective film for school windows, to prevent shattered glass from injuring children if explosions occur.
Along with outfitting school shelters and rebuilding education facilities damaged by missile attacks, UNICEF distributes classroom furniture and provides students and teachers with education supplies; since the beginning of 2023, UNICEF has supported 400,353 children in Ukraine with teaching and learning materials.
The work is all part of UNICEF's collaboration with Ukraine's Government to create a safe learning environment for every child in Ukraine, with in-person instruction whenever possible and through online or community-based alternatives when it is not.
UNICEF is working around the world to protect children growing up in conflict zones. Your contribution can make a difference. Please donate.