An average of 22 schools per day have come under attack in Ukraine since the start of the war five weeks ago, with military operations disrupting the education of 5.5 million children remaining in the country, reports Save the Children NZ this week.
New Zealanders have donated more than $1.2million to the charity’s response for children impacted by the war in Ukraine as reports of daily attacks on schools across the country continue to come through.
At least 869 education facilities – or about 6% of all schools in the country – have been damaged with 83 completely destroyed, according to the Ukraine Ministry of Education and Science.
“Schools should be safe places of learning for children and must be free from attacks,” Save the Children New Zealand Chief Executive Heidi Coetzee says.
“This latest news is further proof that our fundraising efforts here in Aotearoa New Zealand are so important. We have been truly humbled by the support we’ve received from everyday Kiwis alongside corporate partners, including a massive $360,000 from the Kiwi-founded Conqueror Virtual Challenges app.
“These children have experienced things no child should ever be exposed to. In every conflict it is children who bear the brunt and this needs to stop.”
About 43% of attacks on schools have taken place in eastern Ukraine, where more than 400,000 children were living before the conflict escalated on 24 February. Shelling and bombing have destroyed 50 educational buildings in the besieged city of Kharkiv alone.
So far, more than two million children have fled the war in Ukraine while an estimated 5.5 million remain inside the country, in grave risk of physical and emotional harm as bombs and shelling continue to destroy complete neighbourhoods.
The conflict has exacerbated an already challenging education context in Ukraine. Before the escalation of the crisis, 30% of education facilities in eastern Ukraine reported not having enough teachers. As thousands continue to flee their homes every day, there is an increased shortage of teachers and other educational personnel inside Ukraine. Most teachers in the country are female which is increasing shortages as the majority of people fleeing the conflict are women and children.
“Education is under attack in Ukraine. All students and teachers must be protected from the horrors of this war,” says Pete Walsh, Save the Children Country Director in Ukraine.
“Learning cannot and should not be put aside in times of crisis; it is crucial to children’s protection, survival and their future. Access to safe education provides children with stability and structure throughout an emergency.
“This conflict has been ongoing for eight years in parts of the country, which has harmed children’s education, and led to hundreds of schools being damaged or destroyed. This war is spiralling out of control. It is unbearable to see schools and nurseries attacked indiscriminately.”
Attacks on schools and other education facilities are classified as a grave violation committed against children and can constitute a war crime. Schools in eastern Ukraine have been under fire since the conflict began in 2014, with more than 750 schools destroyed, damaged, or forced to close before the recent escalation of violence.
All children have the right to a safe education under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
While fighting is ongoing, there are international legal obligations to take all necessary precautions to protect civilians and civilian objects, including schools and hospitals, which are protected under International Humanitarian Law. Parties must uphold and protect the civilian nature of schools, students, and education staff – and refrain from military-related use of educational facilities. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas should also be avoided as it risks severe harm to civilians, in particular children. To date, these are the main causes of civilian harm.