UNICEF calls to strengthen protection of schools in eastern Ukraine

It has been nearly a year since Ukraine signed the Safe School Declaration. Yet, 3,500 educational facilities are still affected by the ongoing conflict.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is calling for implementation of the Safe School Declaration in Ukraine to be accelerated, as the United Nations introduces the International Day to Protect Education from Attack on 9 September 2020. With the conflict in eastern Ukraine extending into its seventh year, children and teachers in 3,500 educational facilities are currently affected by the ongoing violence and remain at risk.

Over 750 schools and kindergartens have been damaged or destroyed since the hostilities began, and many more have experienced disruptions to the education process. With a fragile ceasefire in place, nearly 400,000 children are going to school near the ‘contact line’, where shelling and extreme mine contamination threaten their lives and wellbeing.[1]

During the previous school year, 19 attacks on schools were reported, of which five took place in April 2020 alone. During one incident, a seventeen-year-old girl was injured by shrapnel in her schoolyard.[2]

Despite no attacks being observed on schools in the last two months, children are continuing to learn in militarized environments. In the last two years, the number of cases in which military positions were observed less than 1 km from operational educational facilities was higher than the previous two years. According to the OSCE SMM report [3], 36 educational facilities on both sides of the ‘contact line’ were observed to be in close proximity to military objects in 2019.

Such close proximity of military sites to educational facilities is putting children, teachers and families in danger. Living in a conflict setting takes a devastating toll on the psychosocial wellbeing of an entire generation of children growing up in eastern Ukraine.

In November 2019, Ukraine became the 100th country to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, committing itself to take concrete measures to protect students, educators and educational facilities during armed conflict.

“It has been nearly a year since Ukraine signed the Declaration. This is the time to turn the commitment into actions, said Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF Representative in Ukraine. ‘I have spoken with parents, children and teachers. They all are asking for a protective and safer learning environment. This is an achievable task if the Government is looking for solutions, and if decisiveness and will are there.”

A joint effort is required by all partners at national and regional level in accordance with the Action Plan proposed by the Ministry of Education and Sciences of Ukraine. These partners include the Ministry of Defense, the Security Service of Ukraine, the Ministry for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Justice, Ombudsman’s offices and civil-military administrations in the east.

As the next step, the government institutions should take the following actions:

· develop a monitoring and reporting mechanism on attacks on educational facilities;

· conduct a risk assessment identifying the educational facilities at greatest risk of being targeted or used for military purposes;

· ensure that an early warning system and security protocols are in place for children and teachers;

· include Safe School Declaration principles and guidelines into military manuals and coursebooks while military training is provided;

· integrate conflict-sensitive approaches in education policies, syllabi and coursebooks.

UNICEF is working with partners across eastern Ukraine to provide support to educational facilities so that repairs can be made to damaged schools and kindergartens, and so education supplies - such as educational kits, furniture and sport equipment - can be replaced. In addition, UNICEF and partners are providing much-needed counselling, psychosocial support, and information about the risks of mines to hundreds of thousands of children, youth and caregivers affected by the conflict.

UNICEF and partners stand ready to support measures to further protect children and ensure full implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration.

[1] UNICEF Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal for Children,  2020 

[2] Attacks on Education in Ukraine – Education Cluster Situation Report, 5 May 2020

[3] OSCE SMM, Impact of the conflict on educational facilities and children’s access to education in eastern Ukraine, July 2020

UN entities involved in this initiative
UNICEF
United Nations Children’s Fund