Schools are being attacked in Ukraine

On March 4, a high school was destroyed by air warfare in the city of Zhytomyr, Ukraine. There were no children in the school, which was closed as a result of the war, but teachers were found hiding in the basement after the strikes had ended.

Attacks that indiscriminately strike civilian objects, such as schools, violate international humanitarian law and would constitute a war crime. Schools should be entitled to heightened protections as long as they are not used for military purposes.

There are no verifiable statistics given the current circumstances of the number of schools that have been attacked in Ukraine, although one figure circulating on global media cites 211 schools so far. The conflict in eastern Ukraine since 2014 had already destroyed, damaged or forced the closure of more than 750 schools, according to Save the Children.

While all evidence online needs to be verified, many individual examples of school attacks can be found on Twitter, including a hole in the wall of a school caused by a missile, a video of a kindergarten blown to bits in Kharkiv, and photos of a kindergarten destroyed in Chernihiv. Amnesty International also confirmed that a 220mm Uragan rocket dropped cluster munitions on the Sonechko nursery and kindergarten in the town of Okhtyrka in Sumy Oblast, where local people were seeking safety from the fighting.

Despite the mounting evidence, the Russian military is denying targeting residential areas.

Quite apart from the long-term damage this bombardment will cause to Ukraine’s education system, the conflict has also created a more immediate challenge for the education of the country’s children and youth right now. There are well over 1.7 million people already on the move out of Ukraine. As was documented in the 2019 GEM Report on migration and displacement, it is vital that these children are quickly integrated into local schools, and their language and psychosocial needs met. Teachers will also require support to cope with their experiences and to find work in new countries.

There will be no child untouched by this fight. The determination and energy of high school students filmed in this video near the start of the war is something we should support as they cross into neighbouring countries looking for safe havens.

Our latest 2012/2 GEM Report reported against SDG Indicator 4.a.3, which serves to monitor the number of attacks on students, personnel and institutions. The data for this indicator are compiled by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), of which the GEM Report is a member, and are based on observations and reports by various actors on the ground.

In 2011, our team produced the 2011 GEM Report and turned the world’s attention to education in conflict.  The volume of support for the messages in the Report resulted in a new UN Resolution recognizing attacks on schools as violations of human rights.

All attacks on schools are indiscriminate. There is no excuse.

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