While teachers worry, children of Ukraine’s cadet school wait for war

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KYIV, Ukraine – The heavy rubber gas masks placed on small wooden desks are nothing out of the ordinary for these children who file past the iron door of the bomb shelter to attend theory lessons. weapons.

Nearby, children laugh, trying to keep up with their English teacher as she sings and gestures “Head and shoulders, knees and toes. Knees and toes! each rep gets a little faster.

Unique in Ukraine, the Volodymyr le Grand Numéro 23 school located on the outskirts of Kyiv trains children to become military cadets, from the age of 7.

They are sent to this boarding school on weekdays to learn discipline, but many now see the skills taught here as essential to their survival, returning to class with the country at war.

The school officially reopens on Friday for the first time since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Many of its 540 students took part in a Thursday rehearsal for the opening ceremony, the boys in black and gold military uniforms, often a little oversized and reminiscent of the Soviet era, with wide hats and heavy epaulettes.

In formation, students wore blue and yellow tasseled frames — the national colors — moving through time as the music alternated between children’s songs and military anthems.

Many cadet schools were established in the Soviet republics, but Volodymyr the Great’s students were all born long after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and in recent years have not been forced to join the army. after graduating.

Yaroslav, a 16-year-old student at school, always wanted to study law and try life in Western Europe. But his school is only a few miles from where the Russian advance has left neighborhoods pulverized by artillery fire, civilians thrown into mass graves and hardened attitudes among ordinary Ukrainians.

“I’ll be honest with you…I want to fight in this war,” Yaroslav said. “I always wanted to travel but that decision has changed. I want to become a soldier.

Yaroslav’s father, an army engineer, was killed after the outbreak of the first war in the east of the country in 2014.

“My father was not afraid to go to the front, and I want to be like that too,” Yaroslav said.

Many of his classmates said they were inspired by the bravery shown by the Ukrainian armed forces during the five-week siege of Kyiv that ended in the Russian retreat.

“We are constantly getting stronger and becoming one of the best armies in Europe, that’s how we can hold off the Russians,” says Yaroslav’s classmate Bohdan. “And it’s thanks to these fighters standing on the front lines that we can keep going.”

Their English teacher Olha Kyrei, who taught at the school for nine years, says she has seen a difference in her students since the war began.

“I think maybe within a month they got more serious,” she said. “The eyes, when you look at the eyes, you are not looking into the eyes of the children. You look at the eyes of adults.

Kyrei keeps in touch with school graduates – calling them “my children” – who have been drafted into the military, texting them “almost every day”. She hopes the war will be over by the time her current group of students graduate.

“We are praying for our June 2023 school leavers,” she said. “We pray that everything will be fine until then: that this situation, this horrible situation, this war is over.”

The school’s principal, Natalia Holovyhyna, said two former students had already been killed during the war.

At school and through months of online lessons, Holovyhyna and her teachers say they try to keep the kids busy with extra homework and activities to keep them from dwelling excessively on the war.

Teachers, she said, chose to stay in Kyiv when the fighting started, continuing online lessons from home and volunteering to keep school facilities open so local residents could use its shelters. -bombs.

“I’m very proud of them,” says Holovyhyna, stopping emotionally. “Our teachers strive to make the study process comfortable…We raise them to also be professional engineers, doctors, teachers, and soldiers.”

Adam Pemble in Kyiv, Ukraine contributed.

Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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