How war in Ukraine affects education

Written by Katerina Chalenko

On February 24, 2022, Thursday, at 3:40 am, a full-scale war broke out in Ukraine.

Undoubtedly, the hostilities in the country have a negative impact on the psychological and physical condition of the citizens, both children and adults. Entire families were forced to hide from constant shelling, leave their homes and flee to other regions or countries due the danger situation in the regions where they live.

The martial law in Ukraine has changed the lives of every citizen and affected all spheres of life.

EU projects on education and psychosocial support to children in Eastern Ukraine. Photo by EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid on Flickr.

But how did the war affect education in Ukraine?

Within weeks of the invasion, nearly 16 million Ukrainians were forced to flee their homes and seek refuge abroad and in other parts of Ukraine. Many of these were women and children, causing significant harm to Ukraine’s majority female teaching force and their students.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers around the world developed remote teaching skills. Now that the war has again divided their classrooms, Ukrainian teachers have adapted these skills to teach students across Europe and the world.

Like Ukraine itself, which has shown tremendous resistance, educators (teachers, professors, etc.) have continued their educational efforts despite enormous odds.  Since the military invasion, teachers have continued to teach their students in bomb shelters during active bombardment. Gas stations and grocery stores powered by generators are turning into centers for filming virtual lessons.

Ukraine’s response and persistent challenges to Education

Ukraine’s literacy rate is 99.8%, one of the highest in the world, and education is a source of national pride. In wartime, the Ukrainian government is working to adapt the education system to new realities.

The day after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine recommended that the educational process in educational institutions of all levels be suspended and that students be sent on a two-week vacation. During this time, part of Ukraine’s territory was temporarily occupied, and a number of cities and villages (Mariupol, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, and others) became the scene of active hostilities.

On March 14, the educational process began to resume in areas where the security situation allowed it.

Children who live far from the hostilities zone and did not move to other regions of Ukraine or abroad during the war are enrolled in full-time, distance, or mixed forms of education.

However, due to prolonged air raids and power outages of several hours, the educational process in the safe areas is also interrupted. After all, when teachers and students are in a shelter during an air raid or without electricity and, accordingly, high-quality Internet, participants in the educational process cannot continue either full-time or distance learning at this time. Therefore, students spend a significant portion of their school time studying on their own. All this only exacerbates educational losses.

Students, who have been forced to change their place of residence within Ukraine, sometimes even repeatedly, experience interruptions in their education and educational losses. For internally displaced students, one of the biggest challenges is adapting to a new environment and integrating into a new educational institution and establishing communication with teachers and peers. Loss or separation from loved ones, separation from friends, change of residence, stress from the events experienced, because someone left the very “center of hell” – all this causes psychological stress for the child.

One of the most difficult is the situation with children living in the hostilities zone or on the contact line or close to the hostilities zone. There is currently no information on the number of such children who remain close to these zones.

Children in these territories are in constant danger, under fire, forced to hide in basements or other safe places as far as possible. There is often no communication, electricity, gas, water, or heat supply in these areas, some of the houses are destroyed, and children have no more or less equipped shelter or refuge. Therefore, the main thing here is to preserve the lives and health of children, and the educational process should be implemented whenever possible – and only in those forms that do not expose children to additional danger. Some children do not study at all, while others study independently where possible. Therefore, this group of children will suffer the greatest educational losses. At the same time, as we have already noted, children in difficult life circumstances also need special attention.

Each group of students has two common problems. These are educational losses, which are different for all groups of students, because it is clear that children who live far from the combat zone and have not changed their place of residence will have less educational losses than other children. Therefore, each educational institution and each community should have an individual strategy for compensating for educational losses, as well as a general state Ukrainian strategy for compensating for educational losses.

Another common problem is the need for psychological assistance to all groups of students, the level of which will also vary depending on the circumstances experienced by the child.

Fear and hope in eastern Ukraine: education in the shadow of conflict. Photo by EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid on Flickr.

Access to education requires

First, education in times of war is an important topic that requires cooperation between government agencies, aid organizations, and the international community to maximize educational opportunities and protect children in such difficult circumstances. Cooperation with local organizations, social workers, and independent experts is needed to ensure that educational opportunities for children are adapted and accessible.

Secondly, to ensure access to education during war, it is necessary to provide sufficient financial resources, appropriate infrastructure and equipment.

Thirdly, it is important to remember that education in time of war is not limited to learning with books. Children need a variety of educational opportunities, including social and emotional support, cultural activities, and access to media and technology.

Fourth, education should be adapted to the situation of war and meet the needs of children to help them adapt to life in difficult circumstances in the future.

And most importantly, one of the key aspects of education in times of war is ensuring the safety of children and teachers. During war, schools are often targeted, resulting in loss of life and destruction of equipment. Schools need to be secured to protect the lives of children and teachers and ensure the continuity of the educational process.                                              

In addition, education in time of war should be accessible to all children, regardless of their social status or religious affiliation. War-related migration and unequal access to education can lead to discrimination and exclusion of some children. It is necessary to ensure accessible and equal educational opportunities for all children to prevent discrimination and ensure equal chances for all children in the future. This requires cooperation with local organizations, social workers, and independent experts to develop and implement strategies to ensure that education is accessible to all children during war.

Students in Ukraine engage in leisure activities. Photo by UNICEF Ukraine.


For sure, war has a significant negative impact on education, but with the right efforts and support, it is possible to mitigate these effects and help children in the future. Of course, many students do not have access to educational programs or the opportunity to join online learning. Those students who have traveled abroad face language problems and struggle to adapt to a different learning system.

Despite the fact that every student was in a terrible and difficult situation, the educational process resumed in spite of everything.


Unlawful Deportation of Ukrainian Children to Russia

Written by Leticia Cox

Since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February 2022, it’s believed that more than 16,000 Ukrainian children have been forcibly transferred to Russia.

United Nations investigators have stated that Russia’s compelled displacement of Ukrainian children to Russia or areas under Russian control constitutes a war crime. According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, there is evidence of other war crimes, including hospital attacks, rape, torture, and wilful killings.

The Geneva Conventions and other international laws and agreements determine the rules for war crimes. Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation or forcible transfer of population, imprisonment or severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law and torture are known as “crimes against humanity”– in some cases, “genocide”.

Military forces can’t deliberately attack civilians or the infrastructure they depend on, including power stations or water sources. Weapons, such as anti-personnel landmines and chemical or biological weapons, are banned, and the sick and the wounded must be cared for, including injured soldiers, who have rights as prisoners of war.

In March, The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague formally indicted the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and Maria Lvova-Belova, the Children’s Commissioner, on charges of orchestrating the mass abduction of Ukrainian children.

As a result, an international arrest warrant was issued for Putin, highlighting the pace with which the international legal community has pursued allegations of war crimes amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

These instances mark the ICC’s first cases since its prosecutors initiated an investigation into war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Ukraine the previous February.

The pre-trial judges of the court have asserted that there are “substantial grounds to believe that each suspect holds responsibility for the war crime of forcibly displacing the population, as well as the unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, to the harm of Ukrainian children.” The judges chose to disclose the suspects’ names to prevent further offences.

Initial reports appeared in the previous spring, revealing that Ukrainian children residing in occupied territories were being transported to Russia, with some even being adopted by Russian families. While Russia framed its actions as a humanitarian effort to rescue Ukrainian children from the war, Ukraine has accused Russia of committing genocide and characterizing these actions as war crimes.

Who are the children affected, and where do they come from?

The purported victims encompass children taken from Ukrainian state institutions within the occupied regions, children whose parents had sent them to Russian-administered “summer camps” from which they never returned, children whose parents were detained by Russian occupying forces, and children orphaned due to the conflict.

Most Ukrainian children captured by Russia originate from the regions currently occupied in the south and east of Ukraine. These regions include Kherson, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk, along with a smaller area in the Mykolaiv region.

Russia has acknowledged holding at least 1,400 Ukrainian children it designates as orphans, although it indicated that at least 2,000 had entered Russia unaccompanied. Additionally, several hundred children from the occupied areas remain in Russia after attending “re-education” camps with parental consent, yet were not returned as expected.

Since the invasion, approximately 400 Ukrainian orphans have been adopted by Russian families, as reported by the Ukrainian Regional Center for Human Rights, which based its assessment on statements from the Russian government.

Russia asserts that an additional 1,000 orphans are awaiting adoption. Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian Children’s Commissioner, has recounted “adopting” a 15-year-old child from Mariupol, a city in southeastern Ukraine devastated and seized by Russian forces.

Nonetheless, many of these Ukrainian children have surviving relatives diligently searching for them. Roughly 90% of Ukrainian children in state care during the invasion were classified as “social orphans,” indicating they had family members. Still, these relatives lacked the means to care for them.

The Russian government’s declarations regarding the orphans withhold their identities and pertinent details, making it challenging for Ukrainian and international authorities to identify and monitor them.

In certain instances, relatives have recognized children through videos disseminated by Russian state media, initiating efforts to secure their return. There are also documented cases of children ending up in Russian state care after fleeing the conflict in Ukraine via evacuation buses to Russia, as well as instances where children were separated from their parents in Russian filtration camps.

What are the “re-education” summer camps?

Over 6,000 Ukrainian children from the occupied areas attended summer camps funded by the Russian government. Several hundred of these children have not been reunited with their families. These camps, described as “re-education camps” in a February study by Yale University, were promoted by the occupying authorities as a means for children to experience peace from the war.

Since the onset of the conflict, even children as young as four months residing in occupied territories have been transported to 43 camps across Russia, including in the annexed Crimea and Siberia, for education with a pro-Russian patriotic and military focus.

Some parents have managed to retrieve their children by embarking on arduous journeys from Ukraine through Poland and the Baltics to southern Russia. Others have entrusted clandestine networks of anti-Putin volunteers with the power of attorney to facilitate their children’s extraction from Russia. However, videos released by regional Russian occupying authorities in November revealed hundreds of children still residing in these camps.

The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide forbids the “forcible transfer of children of the group to another group,” the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits the “illicit transfer and non-return of children abroad.” The specific international law section under which the ICC intends to pursue this case remains uncertain.

Russia claims its actions are intended to protect Ukrainian children from the conflict. Dmitry Peskov, the spokesperson for Putin, has additionally stated that Russia does not acknowledge the authority of the ICC.

“The decisions of the international criminal court have no meaning for our country, including from a legal point of view,” the foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said on her Telegram channel. “Russia is not a party to the Rome statute of the international criminal court and bears no obligations under it.”

Can President Putin be arrested and tried by the ICC?

Currently, President Putin of Russia exerts undisputed authority within his homeland, making it unlikely that the Kremlin would hand him over to the ICC. As long as he stays in Russia, Putin faces no risk of arrest.

However, if Putin were to leave the country, the potential for detention would arise. Considering the substantial restrictions on his international mobility due to existing sanctions, it is unlikely that he would travel to a jurisdiction that aims to prosecute him.

Since the Russian military’s incursion into Ukraine in February 2022, Putin’s travels have been limited to just eight nations. Seven are considered part of Russia’s historical sphere of influence due to their Soviet Union heritage. The exception is Iran, where he met with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in July of the preceding year. Given Iran’s support for Russia’s military efforts through equipment supply, a return visit to Tehran would probably not endanger Putin.

There is an unlikely scenario that President Putin and Ms. Lvova-Belova will face a trial despite international arrest warrants and charges against them. Not only does Russia not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC, established in 2002 by the Rome Statute, this statute asserts that each nation should exercise its criminal jurisdiction over those accountable for international crimes.

The ICC only intervenes if a state can not conduct investigations and prosecutions. While 123 nations have accepted this statute, Russia and others are exceptions. Some countries, including Ukraine, have signed but not ratified the treaty.

The international community interprets the arrest warrant as a signal against the violations of international law in Ukraine. The ICC’s decision to publicize these warrants arises from the ongoing nature of these crimes, intending to deter further offences. Russia’s response has primarily been to dismiss these warrants as insignificant. The Kremlin denies any wrongdoing by its forces in Ukraine, and Putin’s spokesperson labelled the ICC’s decision as “outrageous and unacceptable.”

Given Russia’s defiance, it appears unlikely that the ICC’s actions will significantly influence the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Consequently, Putin’s military endeavours are likely to persist unabated.