A teacher holds classes at home after the destruction of his school in eastern Ukraine

A teacher holds classes at home after the destruction of his school in eastern Ukraine


In the village of Shandrygolove there are only 15 children left and there is no electricity or internet

Oleksander Pogorielov with students in his home
Oleksander Pogorielov with students in his homeAnatoly StepanovAFP
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Only ruins remain of the Shandrygolove school in eastern Ukraine. But Professor Oleksander Pogorielov decided not to give up and continues to teach his students in the living room of his own home.

The school building was destroyed in April, when the town found itself on the front line of fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces. Now, this 45-year-old man, with more than two decades of teaching behind him, returns there just to recover the material that survived the bombings, and to teach his students in the makeshift classroom in his living room.

“What can a teacher still feel when he sees that everything is destroyed?” Oleksander wonders, standing before the ruined school. According to Unicef, hundreds of schools have been damaged or destroyed in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion 11 months ago, forcing millions of children to follow classes remotely.

Russia accuses the Ukrainian military of using schools and other civilian infrastructure to house its troops and store ammunition. A practice of which the Moscow forces are also accused. In the village of Shandrygolove, almost emptied of its 1,000 inhabitants, only 15 children remain, and there is no electricity or internet.

Despite the difficulties, Oleksander told himself that “it was better to give face-to-face classes.” “The doctor must treat his patients, and the teacher teach the children,” he says. Every day, the students meet in the living room of Oleksander and his wife Larisa. The walls are covered with posters recovered from the school, where the alphabet and syntax are taught.

Oleksander teaches 11 students from 4 to 16 years old. He teaches them Ukrainian language and literature, foreign literature, biology, geography and mathematics. Previously, Russian language and literature were part of the educational curriculum in this predominantly Russpeaking region. But it is no longer the case.

According to Oleksander, the parents supported the withdrawal of the Russian, but the town remains divided, like many other communities in the Donetsk region, between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian sympathies. Most of the around 120 students who once attended the village school are now refugees in Europe, in other regions of Ukraine or in Russia..

“I can’t speak for the others. Everyone has their own opinions,” Oleksander declares about the war. “I can’t even speak for myself right now. I’m not sure what I think.” The five children present in the class on Tuesday spoke a mixture of Ukrainian and Russian, but said that their favorite subject was Ukrainian.

Shandrygolove was retaken by Ukrainian forces in September 2022. War is still raging on all sides. Oleksander, a 15-year-old teenager, walks three kilometers to go to class. Always walking on paved roads, for fear of stepping on a mine. His companion Dmitro comments that, in a neighboring town, two people died when, while walking through a forest, they inadvertently activated a trap left by the soldiers.

Oleksander Pogorielov hopes despite everything that there will be a certain normality in the town, which obtained financing to rebuild the school. At the moment, he is the only teacher who helps his students to pursue their dreams.

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