Ukraine students brace for underground school year

Five metres beneath a Kyiv classroom, headmaster Mykhaylo Aliokhin puts the finishing touches on the bunker where his students will spend much of their time once Ukraine’s school term starts later this week.

The study hall above is still littered with school bags abandoned since February 23 — the last day before Russia invaded and school bells fell silent, replaced by the skirl of the air raid siren.

Down here, there are no windows. Desks, display boards, colourful books and globes all remain upstairs. This was once a changing room, but as shelling remains a threat in the capital it now serves as a shelter.

“As soon as a siren goes off, staff will immediately bring the children down to the basement regardless of the activity at the time,” Aliokhin told AFP. “As much as possible, they’ll carry on with their work in a relaxed way.”

Despite the austere conditions he hopes one-third of his 460 pupils, aged between six and 16, will return when schools reopen on Thursday for the first time since the war started.