A school in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, a town once under Russian occupation and heavily damaged, welcomed the first-graders to the classrooms on Thursday (September 1) for Ukraine’s first day of school.
Holding balloons in blue and yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag and some wearing traditional embroidered shirts, children posed for pictures and smiled back to their parents.
“We don’t have a right to project our fears on our children. We hope for the best,” Tetiana, mother of a first-grader, told Reuters.
During the first months of the occupation, the school served as a bomb shelter and a makeshift hospital for local residents hiding from the Russian forces.
Following Russia’s withdrawal from the area at the end of March, the school has returned to educating the town’s children, but its bomb shelter remains an important part of the building.
“I hope the children won’t have to go there, but they have to learn, be amongst their peers. So I hope that everything will be fine,” Tetiana added.
Nearly 2,300 educational institutions were shelled or bombed since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, and 286 were completely destroyed, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science.
More than 350 children have died and 586 were wounded during what Russia calls a “special military operation,” U.N. data show. The total could be much higher.