School frozen in time after it was used as bomb shelter during nine months of fear

The date scribbled on the blackboard of a classroom in southern Ukraine still reads 23 February.
It was the day before Russia launched its invasion – and the last time children in the village of Snihurivka were able to study at their school.

Lines of desks and chairs stand empty – as if frozen in time.
An abandoned pair of little shoes, a drawstring bag of clothes and the odd pen offer the only hint of the routine, school-time bustle that once filled this building.
In its place for the past nine months has been only fear as the building became an impromptu bomb shelter for local residents.

Only now are staff finally able to consider reopening to students after a major Ukrainian counter-offensive recaptured the village, in the region of Mykolaiv, from Russian hands just over a fortnight ago, the deputy headmistress said.
“To be honest, when liberation happened, we were crying,” said Iryna Zaveriuhina, 52. “We could all breathe more easily.”
She showed Sky News how airstrikes from the early days of the war had shattered many of the school’s windows.
But the building includes a sprawling basement, which offered a vital place of sanctuary for around 400 adults and children to escape the threat from rockets and missiles.


Image: The school has not been used since the day before the Russian invasion
Some came just at night. Others stayed down in the basement all the time – from the beginning of the invasion until after the Ukrainian forces arrived. The last two guests had only just dared to venture home when Sky News visited the school on Thursday.
A row of children’s beds, one with a soft toy, can still be seen in the darkness lining the wall of one large, underground room. There is also a dirty bowl on the side.
There are no lights so the only way to see was with a torch light from our mobile phones.

Image: Teachers are hoping to reopen the school
Ms Zaveriuhina spent the first few weeks of the war helping out in the basement every other day from 8pm to 8am until the village fell under Russian control on 19 March.
She stopped visiting at that point but many others still used it.
Asked how she felt about returning to the shelter, she said: “To be honest I don’t know how to describe my feelings. I wish people never have to live again in basements. Some families were really scared and children as well. It was a nightmare.”

Image: The school basement was used as a shelter
The teacher described how, despite the hardship of Russian occupation, residents remained defiant, with people often daring to raise the Ukrainian flag overnight on a flagpole outside the school – only for the Russians to bring it down the following day.
With the Russian forces now gone, the focus for teachers is to repair the damage the school suffered, regain electricity and work to enable children to return to class.

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The school normally holds around 350 pupils, aged six to 17, though Ms Zaveriuhina believes fewer than 50 of them are still in the village, as many families fled.
She is hopeful they will return. In the meantime, teachers have distributed a lot of books to parents to enable them to teach their children at home. A lack of internet and power means remote, online learning is particularly challenging.
“As soon as everyone is back here, everything will be okay. We are hoping for that,” she said.

Image: Lidiia Varaksa’s kitchen was destroyed by a munition
Down the road from the school is a different example of resilience and survival.
At 82, Lidiia Varaksa was knocked off her feet and hit her head on a table when a munition exploded outside her small bungalow a few weeks ago, shattering an outdoor kitchen and punching pock marks into walls and pipes.
“This was my fridge,” she said, holding up the remains of a battered door. “Everything was hit.”
She lives alone, except for a dog, and has not heard from her two sons.

Image: Lidiia Varaksa has not heard from her two sons
Her hair wrapped in a mustard-yellow headscarf, she said she did not know how she would be able to afford the repair work for her home and was worried about the approaching winter, as there was still no power for heat and light.
“How do I feel? I’m walking around and crying. There is nothing else I can do,” she said.
But she is not giving up.
“When the Ukrainian forces came here, people started to come out from their cellars.
“In my opinion, if I could just continue living like this until the end of my days, it can just be like that.
“Collapsed, destroyed [home], I don’t mind. I want to live peacefully until the end of my days.”

Source : Sky News