Ukrainian chil­dren learn to the echoes of shelling

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Two long bells mean chil­dren must pack their blan­kets and cloth­ing and run into a bomb shel­ter at this di­lap­i­dated school on the front­line of Ukraine’s smol­der­ing war. The drills in the govern­ment-held town of Marinka that was once home to 10,000 peo­ple have been held monthly since the con­flict broke out with pro-Rus­sian in­sur­gents in April 2014.

And some­times there has been ac­tual shelling. One rebel as­sault on the town killed 20 peo­ple in June last year. “In the early days, I used to get fright­ened when ev­ery shot was fired,” 15-year-old Tanya Mokraya told AFP. “I would cry and be un­able to sleep. But now I am used to it. I of­ten walk home from school to the sound of au­to­matic gun­fire,” the 10thgrader said.

Mil­i­tary out­post

Three hun­dred chil­dren used to at­tend the Marinka school be­fore Ukraine was hurled into its worst mil­i­tary cri­sis since World War II. The build­ing it­self looks more like a well-for­ti­fied mil­i­tary out­post than a school. The doors are pock­marked with bul­let holes while the walls are cov­ered with posters warn­ing about land­mines that lit­ter the sur­round­ing fields.

The win­dows are pro­tected with stacks of sand­bags to make sure that no one gets hurt by stray shrap­nel. And the en­trance is guarded by mil­i­tary po­lice­men wear­ing body ar­mor and car­ry­ing ma­chine­guns. The kids are forced to stay in­side un­til the fight­ing that pe­ri­od­i­cally breaks out stops.

Many fam­i­lies fled Marinka af­ter the June 2015 attacks — never to return. Mokraya her­self went to five dif­fer­ent schools across govern­ment-held parts of Ukraine af­ter the fight­ing broke out. She re­turned to Marinka in Septem­ber and now at­tends half-empty classes taught only by teach­ers who are will­ing to brave the con­flict. “I am sad that the school has be­come kind of bor­ing and there are so few chil­dren. But it is good that it is open at all,” Mokraya said.

‘Fu­ri­ous with army’

“Last month the school came un­der fire. All the floors were hit and more than 40 win­dows were shat­tered,” Ukrainian mil­i­tary spokesman Olek­sandr Kinds­fater told AFP. “It is not the first time the rebels have tar­geted this school. It comes un­der con­stant fire.” Kinds­fater ac­cuses the rebels of launch­ing strikes to keep the lo­cals fear­ful and angry that the Ukrainian army has been un­able to pro­tect them.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.