Ukrainian school children get lessons on how to survive an invasion as Russian threat looms large

Fear of a full-scale Russian military invasion is looming large in the city of Kharkiv, just 25 miles from Ukraine‘s eastern border with Russia. Children are still going to school as residents try to get on with their daily lives, but as the Reuters news agency reports, some kids are now learning how to survive a military attack, along with math and spelling. 

Reuters visited a school in Kharkiv where students were getting lessons on how to identify various explosives and the importance of bulletproof vests and helmets. They were also practicing evacuation drills and learning first aid. 

Civilian defense specialist Oleksandr Shevchuk told Reuters the lessons have been popular in the region. In January, students in the capital of Kyiv received a similar lesson after a series of hoax bomb alerts across the country.

“But now we have started giving those drills for children more often, to prevent situations such as children getting injured, or God forbid, death,” Shevchuk said. 

Attacks escalate on front lines in Eastern Ukraine


Shevchuck said the people who give the lessons want to avoid fueling panic among students and teachers, so they try to keep it as light as possible. 

“We try to show them all this, tell them, let them try on our uniforms, bulletproof vests and helmets,” he said. “Show them what explosive items can be, so that they can become aware of situations that may happen to them.” 

Arina Cherkasova, 15, smiled as a bulletproof vest was lowered over her head and the instructors helped her put on a bright orange helmet. 

“It was a bit heavy,” she told Reuters, “and quite funny doing this in front of friends.” 

But while the mood was light in the classroom, Ukrainians have become increasingly nervous over the prospect of a full Russian invasion. 

While Kharkiv is under government control, it is very close to the two regions of Ukraine’s Donbas area that are held by pro-Russian rebels, and which Vladimir Putin’s regime unilaterally recognized as independent this week. 

Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine - vector map
A map shows the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.


Putin has ordered Russian forces to enter the rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk regions for “peacekeeping,” but Ukraine, and the U.S. and its allies, have dismissed the notion of Russian forces entering Ukraine for anything other than a military invasion as “nonsense.”   

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that Kharkiv — which lies just north of the rebel’s territory and is home to tank, aircraft and tractor factories — could be targeted if Russia does launch a full invasion. 

Russia has consistently denied any plans to invade the neighboring country, but President Biden said Tuesday that the invasion had already begun. 

Biden sanctions Russia as invasion of Ukraine looms


Nazar, another student, said the lesson he and his classmates got was a reflection of what was already going through their minds. 

“We discuss when this incursion might happen… whether it will happen at all, and what to do in general when it happens… if it happens,” he told Reuters. He said the lesson was “quite relevant, given the situation that is generally developing between Ukraine and Russia.”

“Scary,” he added. “Very scary.” 

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