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

23 February is still the date that was written on the chalkboard in a southern Ukrainian classroom.

It was the day Russia invaded the village of Snihurivka. This was also the last day children could attend school.

As if frozen in the past, lines of chairs and desks stand empty.

A pair of abandoned shoes, a bag with clothes and a pen are the only traces of the school-time hustle that once filled this space.


It has been empty for nine months, and residents have only had to fear that the building would become an emergency bomb shelter.

The deputy headmistress stated that staff are now able to consider opening the school to students again after a major Ukrainian counter-offensive seized the village in the region of Mykolaiv from Russian hands just over two weeks ago.

“To be truthful, when liberation occurred, we were crying,” stated Iryna Zaveriuhina (52). “We all could breathe easier.”

Sky News was shown by her how many school windows were smashed by airstrikes in the early days.

The basement was a large part of the building and provided refuge for 400 children and adults from the danger posed by missiles and rockets.

Image Since the Russian invasion, the school has been closed.

Some arrived at night. Some others stayed in the basement from the start of the invasion to the moment that the Ukrainian forces arrived. Sky News visited the school Thursday to find that only two of its guests had ventured home.

In the shadows of the underground room, you can still see a row of beds for children, each with a soft toys. A dirty bowl is also found on the side.

Because there are no lights, the only way to see is with a torch light that we have on our phones.

Image Teachers hope to reopen school

Ms Zaveriuhina worked in the basement every day for the first few weeks until the village fell to Russia on March 19.

She stopped visiting the site at that time, but others continued to use it.

When asked how she felt about the shelter returning, she replied: “To be completely honest, I don’t know what to describe my feelings. I would love to see people not have to live in basements again. Many families and children were scared. It was terrifying.

Image A shelter was built in the basement of the school.

According to the teacher, the Russians were able to take down the Ukrainian flag the next day, despite the hardships of the occupation.

Teachers now have to fix the damage done to the school, restore electricity, and help children return to class after the Russian forces are gone.

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The school has approximately 350 students, aged 6-17, but Ms Zaveriuhina thinks that less than 50 are still living in the village. Many families have fled.

She hopes they will return. Teachers have given many books to parents in the interim to help them teach their children at home. Online learning can be difficult because of the lack of internet access and power.

Everything will be fine as soon as everyone returns home. She said, “We are hoping for that.”

Image Lidiia Varaksa lost her kitchen to a munition

A different example of resilience is found just down the road from the school.

Lidiia Varaksa, 82, was knocked to the ground and struck her head on a table by a munition that exploded outside her bungalow a few weeks back. It shattered an outdoor kitchen and punched pock marks in walls and pipes.

She held up the remains of a broken door and said “This was my refrigerator.” “Everything was hit.”

Except for her dog, she lives alone and has never heard from her sons.

Image Lidiia Variaksa hasn’t heard from her sons

She wrapped her hair in a headscarf made of mustard yellow. She said that she was unsure how she would pay for the repairs to her house and was concerned about the coming winter. There was no heat or light.

“How do I feel? I am walking around crying. She said that there is nothing I can do other than to walk around and cry.

She isn’t giving up.

“When the Ukrainian forces arrived here, people began to get out of their cellars.

“I believe that if I could continue to live like this until the end, it would be just like this.

“Collapsed, destroyed [home], I don’t mind. I want to live peacefully till the end of my days.


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