Ukraine has chosen World Children’s Day to announce its endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration, an international political commitment to make schools safe even during times of war. They are the 100th country to back the declaration.
When I learned the news this morning, I thought of a school I visited in the village of Nikishine, in eastern Ukraine, in 2015. Intense fighting raged around the school, which was caught between government forces and Russia-backed armed groups. At some point, armed groups took over the school and from inside the school exchanged fire with Ukrainian forces. By doing so, they turned it into a military target – Ukrainian forces then shelled the school, nearly destroying it. When the fighters left and residents returned to the village, local kids no longer had a school to go to.
Since the beginning of the conflict in 2014, over 750 education facilities have been damaged or destroyed in Ukraine. Many more have experienced disruptions in education. Nearly half a million kids live, play, and go to school in the so-called “gray zone,” a stretch of land that separates the warring parties.
Ukraine’s endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration means the country now supports all of the major international child rights instruments: the Convention on the Rights of the Child, its three optional protocols, the Paris Principles combating the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers, the Vancouver Principles on child protection in peacekeeping, and the two major treaties combating child labor. That’s a pretty good way to celebrate World Children’s Day.
The armed conflict between the Ukrainian government and Russia-backed armed groups, which to date has claimed over 13,000 lives, has been going on since 2014. Civilians have borne the brunt of the fighting, which damages their homes, destroys the infrastructure, and threatens their lives. But today brings a little more hope for the safety and education of Ukraine’s youngest generations.