‘We won’t hear the bangs’: Ukrainian city moves schools into metro stations

A teacher holds the hands of children as they go downstairs to an underground kindergarten in a subway station in Kharkiv. Credit: AP

Schools in the northern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv have moved underground into metro stations to avoid Russian airstrikes.

Life for children across Ukraine has changed immeasurably since Russia invaded - despite almost daily shelling and missile strikes, the city has recovered an uneasy normalcy, with some residents returning and shops open.

Still, the fear of seemingly random Russian strikes makes school too much of a risk, and none of the city’s schools are still used for lessons as it’s too dangerous.

The city has looked underground, to the metro and newly built bunker schools to protect children as they learn.

"Here we won’t hear anything. We won’t hear the bangs," five-year-old Elmira Dergousova told CNN from her classroom.

Elmira and her mother, Olena. Credit: CNN

Nestled in an old pedestrian tunnel, a few feet under the tarmac of the road above, the classrooms are cozy and colourful.

"I love Ukraine because of nature," Elmira continued.

"We have different creatures that are not in other countries. And we were probably attacked because of that."

Elmira's father is fighting on the front lines and she was a refugee in Poland with her mother for a year.

In Kharkiv, air raid sirens sound sometimes more than a dozen times a day, Elmira’s mother Olena Dergousova told CNN.

Virtually every house was hit in her neighbourhood in the opening months of the 2022 invasion, she said.

Given the limited space in the metro school, Elmira is forced to study from home every other day. She uses software and tablets pioneered during the Covid-19 pandemic.

By March, Kharkiv’s mayor hopes to have the city’s first purpose-built ‘bunker school’ operational. Credit: CNN

Nearly 2,200 children attend classes in the metro school’s five sites in stations across Kharkiv, up from 1,000 in September when they opened, according to Kharkiv’s city hall, solely at their parents’ request.

In total, 106 classes of children through grades 1-11 rotate through the 19 metro classrooms.

That’s a fraction of the tens of thousands of school age children in the city, according to the city’s mayor.

But studying underground means a school day without disruption, safe from the bombs and the fear of the sirens.

“The kids are probably getting used to it by now,” Elmira’s teacher Olena Rudakova said.

“They get used to it somehow.”

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