Ukrainian students use Zoom and Google Meet to study math and language, while trying to make sense of what happened to family and friends.

After weeks of Russian attacks that halted classes across Ukraine, students across the country are returning to school online as teachers and superintendents use both Zoom and Google Meet to resume classes and to try to locate missing children.

“Some students, we don’t know where they are,” said Yevgeniya Yarova, who oversees 108 schools in the besieged city of Kyiv.

Only about 7,000 of the 26,000 students in the Shevchenko district of Yarova, which includes schools ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade, are still in Ukraine, she said. But they and others who have evacuated to countries like Poland and Germany are beginning to resume online classes, as their circumstances permit.

“Every day, even despite the war, we have to push them, make them, motivate them to acquire new knowledge,” Yarova said. “I ask teachers to tell their students that the Russian invasion cannot cause us not to learn.”

Internet connectivity in Ukraine remained relatively resilient during the war, thanks in large part to telecommunications technicians and engineers who risked their lives to keep the country online. This has allowed some students to continue their studies virtually over the past month – in safer parts of western Ukraine, for example – and others in hard-hit cities like the capital to finally resume. lessons.

Yet the sirens of air raids and evacuations to bomb shelters, often several times a day, continue to be frightening and disruptive. The estimated 4 million people who fled Ukraine, and millions more internally displaced persons, also present enormous obstacles for local schools: among the refugees are teachers, many of them young women with children, and students who have started new programs in other places. Some schools are dealing with the death of their own students. All this, in the wake of the great learning challenges brought by the pandemic.

Even so, educators are doing what they can to support students academically and emotionally.

“The Russian invasion cannot cause us not to learn.”

Yevgeniya Yarova

In the Yarova school district, every morning now begins with a minute of silence in honor of those who have died since the war began in February, she said. It means mourning members of their own community — including a fifth-grade student and her mother, who died in an explosion near downtown, and a family of five who were shot while driving, Yarova says. Both parents and one of their three young children are deceased, she explained; the other two siblings, including a current student, escaped. “She was running, because she was very scared, and later we found her not far from her house, we took her to the hospital,” says Yarova. “Everything was fine with her, but she has no father, no mother.”

Between a simplified curriculum of math, English and Ukrainian, students and teachers openly discuss the conflict with Russia and the developments leading up to it.

“A lot of fathers of our children, they’re in this war, and today the kids started talking, ‘Where is your father, or your father?’ on Zoom,” Yarova says. “They all wonder, and many of their fathers are no longer with them.”

Yulia Yaniuk, who is in eleventh grade in the Ivano-Frankivsk region in western Ukraine, is learning remotely both for security reasons and because her school is used to house refugees, some of whom have joined its virtual classes. In a Zoom interview, she says she and her peers (some now as far away as Italy) spoke to a school psychologist about the war on Zoom and the social media app Viber, and that learning distance has become a welcome diversion.

It “helps distract us from negative news and war,” says Yaniuk. “When we see our classmates on the internet, it makes us feel better.”

But she says a single month of school during a war was harder than three years of school during a pandemic. During the Covid crisis, “we don’t really do [feel] so scared and stressful, and we can just stay home for a month or more and it was quiet,” she says. “But now the air signal is sounding – we’re just going for cover, and the house still looks stressful and panicked.”

When that happens, “the class is over, and we don’t continue with our class, and that’s a problem because it can take several hours,” she added. “We can’t learn and we can’t do our homework either. But the teacher treats us with understanding and they are in the same situation. Learning is therefore somewhat simplified.

The Yarova school system in Kyiv announced on Monday that children from other Ukrainian towns – some of which have suffered even more – are welcome to join Kyiv’s online classes. Yarova says a handful of students from Kharkiv started participating, but none from Mariupol or Chernihiv could connect.

Yarova has been living in a school that has been turned into a bomb shelter since she left her kyiv home abruptly three weeks ago. The closed athletics school, for athletics, has been turned into a makeshift dormitory for a small group of people and their pets. As classes begin, Yarova and district school principals spend their days preparing hundreds of meals for the men of Ukraine’s Voluntary Military Defense Force.

Speaking from Kyiv on Monday, the head of the education department appeared disheveled and exhausted. She laughs in exasperation as she gives Forbes a virtual tour of what she called her “apartment” – a cramped, windowless room where she has little more than perfume, hair products and gym clothes she grabbed while escaping from At her place. “I was very scared, scared,” she says. The men of his family remain in kyiv, while the women, including his mother and six-year-old granddaughter, are in western Ukraine, near the Hungarian border, in the hope of surrendering. in Italy.

Meanwhile, 16-year-old Yaniuk worries about how she will pass the exams needed to apply to college. Yarova also says it is unclear how these standardized tests, or even graduation, will take place in Kyiv.

“We are very fed up,” she said with a sigh, “and we don’t understand [when] it will be over.