Pupils in Kharkiv are now studying underground

Pupils in Kharkiv are now studying underground – however, metro schools are only the first line of aid for the education crisis facing the city 

Schools located at Kharkiv metro stations bring together children who have persevered through the pandemic years and now live under the constant threat of air raids. Finn Church Aid arranges psychosocial support for the children so that life can slowly return to normal.

Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen 
Photos: Antti Yrjönen 

STAIRS TAKE you from a wide street to the underground, just like in any big city. The undulating sound of the metro echoes through the corridors. People come and go about their day, as has been done here under the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv for decades.  

In late 2023, it is the small people who catch your attention. They dig books out of their backpacks all the while metro trains stop at the station as scheduled. 

“We have pupils from the first through to the fourth grade studying here. The morning shift includes 128 pupils. A new set of pupils will come in the afternoon”, says Anzhela Malahova, looking through a stack of papers in front of her. She goes on to say that metro schools have been set up at five Kharkiv stations. 

Today, Malahova serves as the metro school’s deputy head teacher. Her own school is closed, as is also the case for all the other schools located above ground in Kharkiv. Pupils are studying remotely for the fourth year in a row: First, there was the COVID-19 pandemic and that was followed by the major Russian offensive. The war front has already moved further east, but Kharkiv is still the target of air raids. At worst, the sirens sound several times a day and it is not possible to organise classes in actual schools.  

“I’m happy that we are finally able to gather together”, Malahova says, wiping the corners of her eyes and gesturing in the direction of the classrooms built at the station. 

käytävä, jossa reppuselkäisiä lapsia

A new day begins. The children go to the classrooms in the Kharkiv metro school.

Kharkiv metro has been serving the city for half a century

The Kharkiv metro network was completed in 1975 to meet the needs of the growing city. In recent years, up to 240 million passengers have passed through its tunnels every year. 

The underground network took on a new, life-protecting role starting in February 2022 when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It is estimated that up to 160,000 civilians sought shelter in the metro during the worst of the fighting. As the war dragged on, the city’s education management began to consider whether metro stations could also be used as safe schools.  

In autumn 2023, schools were set up at five metro stations. Now, there are children sitting at their desks and chattering happily, although they will soon settle down to study mathematics and the Ukrainian language. This is also the case for Julija Yurova, who is wearing a green dress and has her hair in a ponytail. 

“I’m five years old”, the girl starts her introduction in a brisk fashion. Then, she slaps her forehead with both hands and exclaims: “No! I’m already six!” 

Yurova says that she recently celebrated her birthday. She goes to school at the metro station three days a week. Julija Yurova always travels to school with her mother or father, but she seems to have no idea how many stops away home is.  

“It’s not a long trip”, she says with certainty. 

Julija Yurova (right) studies at the metro school with her good friend Karolyna Havrysheva.

The majority of children in Kharkiv study online

Yurova and her schoolmates are lucky. Watching them bustle around, it is hard to imagine what a remote school day in front of screens would look like for the 5–9-year-olds.  

However, the metro schools with their just over a thousand pupils are only the first line of aid in a situation where 110,000 children and young people are enrolled in basic education in Kharkiv. According to official data, only about half of them take part in classes which are mainly organised remotely. Many families have ended up as refugees abroad or elsewhere in Ukraine. 

Julija Yurova also fled with her family, but later returned to her native city. She holds a pencil tightly in her hand and copies some squiggly letters in an exercise book. Occasionally, she lets out a frustrated snort, grabs an eraser from the drawer and wipes everything away. Learning the letters seems to be a meticulous job. 

The conversation with Yurova begins to flow when the topic of the necklace hanging around her neck comes up. It says BFF on it, which is short for Best Friends Forever.  

“My family and I were refugees in Ternopil in western Ukraine. I met my best friend there who gave me this piece of jewellery. Now, we go to metro school together in Kharkiv. We are three best friends in the same class”, Yurova explains.  

The pupils of Kharkiv metro school dancing between lessons.

Julija Yurova received a piece of jewelry from her best friend, whom she met while being displaced in Ternopil.

Ukrainian children need support in dealing with trauma

One Monday in November, something new is happening at the metro school. Two school psychologists trained by Finn Church Aid are coming to hold a lesson to deal with trauma through play and attend to the pupils’ psychosocial well-being.  

The topic of the first lesson is emotions. The lesson starts with an exercise where each pupil introduces themselves and comes up with a funny movement or sound to accompany the introduction. The psychologists’ voices are playful like in a children’s programme and the children follow the lesson with concentration. Towards the end of the lesson, the psychologists dig out a colourful parachute, and the children burst with joy. They take turns throwing the parachute into the air and crawling under it. The roar of laughter is deafening.  

“The lesson was a success. The aim was to relax the body and mind, build team spirit and play together”, says Olha Zinovieva, who has worked as a child psychologist for 14 years. 

Her colleague Alina Symonenko has also worked as a psychologist in a kindergarten for 16 years. Zinovieva and Symonenko’s message is clear: Ukrainian children are carrying a heavy burden within them due to the difficult conditions. Many have attended classes remotely for years, many have family members on the front lines and loved ones of some of the children have also been killed or wounded. 

“The children are more fearful and aggressive than before. They would like to talk to each other, but don’t know how because they have been alone so much. When they finally meet their peers, there’s a lot of conflict in the air. They simply don’t have the skills to deal with other children”, Symonenko says.  

Psychologists Olha Zinovieva and Alina Symonenko hold a lesson on psychosocial support for children. The first session is about getting to know each other.

At the Kharkiv metro school, children deal with their traumas and other things that bother them through play and games.

Encountering each other at the metro school helps the children catch up to what would be a more normal school experience, but in the big picture, returning to how things were will take a lot of time and resources. Because of the war, Ukraine has enormous needs both in terms of people’s well-being and the reconstruction of the infrastructure.  

Volodymyr Grebennik, an engineer working in the Kharkiv office of Finn Church Aid, says that as many as 120 schools in the city have suffered damage in the war according to official data. Four of the schools are beyond repair and only 33 schools have already been refurbished with funds from the city. In a country at war, there is not enough money to repair all the damage. As of summer 2023, Kharkiv has been seeking external funding from abroad to enable pupils and school staff to eventually return to in-person teaching above ground. 

Face-to-face learning increases interaction

At around noon, the metro school’s morning shift is over. Wearing her backpack, Julija Yurova waits for her mother, who is coming to pick her daughter up today.  

“I’m glad that my child has been able to attend in-person classes starting from first grade”, says mother Natalia Yurova over the clatter of the metro as they make their way home.  

“In-person teaching is really important because of the interaction. It’s much more than what I, as her mother, could offer her in homeschooling. My child is talkative and likes to be around other children. She is always eager to go to school”, the mother continues, looking at her daughter, who is sitting among her fellow passengers with her backpack. 

We soon find out that Julija Yurova’s journey to school is not long indeed: Her home is only one metro stop away. She quickly jumps onto the platform, grabs her mother’s hand and waves after us.  

She has a pet cat waiting for her at home.  

Julija Yurova, 6, travels to school by metro like many other students of the metro school.

Parents accompany the youngest students to the metro school in the morning and pick them up back home in the afternoon. Natalia Yurova (right) considers it important that her daughter meets children her own age at school.

FCA has supported Kharkiv’s metro schools in purchasing materials and offered psychologists training so that they can arrange psychosocial support lessons for the children. The work is supported by EU funding. 

Kids’ clubs provide oasis of normality for Ukraine’s children


Kids’ clubs provide oasis of normality for Ukraine’s children

FCA supports after school and holiday clubs in Chernihiv for children. Provided by local Ukrainian NGO DOCCU, they provide fun and inclusive spaces where teachers, children, and their parents can gain new knowledge and skills.

FROM BLARING SIRENS and shelling to conducting lessons in shelters: for more than a year and a half of war in Ukraine, it may seem that children have become used to these daily realities.

Observing schoolchildren, it’s nowadays commonplace in Ukraine to see drawings of tanks, blue and yellow flags sketched with chalks on the playground and games where kids play ‘checkpoint’, pretending to look over adult’s documents. War has filtered down to every level of children’s lives.  For most, it’s taken a toll that is more or less obvious in each child.

Dmytro, is an internally displaced person. For two weeks, while attending children’s activities organised at a local school in Talalaivka, Chernihiv region, he was mostly silent, constantly building figures out of LEGO. But at the end of the second week, he started talking.

A boy in a patterned sweater and a red baseball cap stands outside in a field and looks just past the camera with a calm expression

“I was born in Crimea. When the war started, I moved to Mykolaiv. Then from Mykolaiv to my grandmother in Kherson.

We had no food for 28 days. I saw airplanes, I saw armoured personnel carriers, I saw a mine on the road. It’s calmer here, at least there are no mines.”

Dmytro, KOLO club participant.

Dmytro was taking part in special children’s clubs, set up by Ukrainian NGO DOCCU. The so-called ‘KOLO Clubs’ specialise in supporting the education system in the communities of Chernihiv Oblast. This includes organising leisure activities for children after school and during the holidays, but also training teachers to provide psychosocial support for children.

Summer clubs and more

The KOLO Clubs format was launched in summer 2022. It continued this year (2023) with not only a second summer club, but also after-school clubs for children running through the autumn.  

A yellow canopy in front of a school. Beanbags lie under the canopy.
KOLO clubs take place in the Chernihiv region and accommodate more than 2500 children.

Dmytro was one of more than 2500 children who attended KOLO Clubs activities in the Chernihiv region. In addition to entertainment, such as board games, drawing, or master classes, children are also offered educational activities in the areas of democracy and human rights, media literacy and Internet safety, active citizenship, mine safety, psychological support, and STEM education.

Some classes are conducted by coaches, such as professional actors, media literacy specialists, or English language coaches. All classes are fun and easy, using all the necessary materials mentioned above to help children learn the material as best they can.

A smiling woman in a pink flowery top sits in a room with many multi-coloured beanbags. A child sits closely next to her.

“My child always comes home with positive emotions: she talks vividly about the day, which is extremely busy. There wasn’t even a free minute to look at the phone or anything else: she was always doing something.

I believe that sessions with a psychologist are extremely useful and necessary for our children. They have had a positive impact on the children, particularly on my daughter.”

Maria Zavodenko, mother of Nadiya, a KOLO Clubs attendee

Teaching Training

As part of the clubs, not only schoolchildren acquire new knowledge, but teachers of the region are also trained. They learn how to act in emergencies (during evacuations, first aid, mine safety), how to keep students safe in shelters, digital competence and interactive tools for online and blended learning, and courses on mental health and psychosocial support.

The project also includes training for professionals working with children with special educational needs. In total, the training will cover about 850 educators in Chernihiv region by the end of 2023.

A woman stands under a yellow canopy next to a sign in Ukrainian

“I saw quite significant changes in the children, because I have known many of them for a long time. They learned to work in a team, learned to restrain their emotions, and sometimes to show them vividly.

After psychological relief, it became quite easy for them to communicate and unite with children from other communities who came to visit.”

Tetiana Panchenko, coordinator of the KOLO Club in the Mykhailo-Kotsiubynska community.

Repair of educational spaces

The design of the future KOLO club spaces was developed by students.

New educational spaces are also part of the project. For teachers, a modern professional training center for teachers will be created in Chernihiv at School No. 19, which was damaged at the beginning of the war. After the school building is repaired, the centre will be equipped with new furniture and equipment necessary for further teacher training. The centre will operate on a permanent basis and come under the Chernihiv Department of Education.

KOLO clubs will also operate on a regular basis in the four schools where the activities are currently taking place. School libraries are being renovated and will be converted into modern media libraries. Thanks to the project, these media libraries will be filled with everything necessary for active and interesting extracurricular activities.

A boy in a baseball cap and a green vest smiles and shows the thumbs up sign

“For me, KOLO Clubs is a good experience, it’s just a great place!”

Bohdan, a student of Talalayivka Lyceum.

Kids design their own spaces

The design of the future KOLO club spaces was developed by students. During their active citizenship classes, the children developed projects and chose the best ones by voting. They were used as the basis for the design of future spaces in Chernihiv, Kulykivka, Talalaivka, and Andriivka.

The creation of such spaces will make it possible to conduct active, useful, and rich extracurricular activities after the completion of the KOLO Clubs project, which runs until the end of November 2023. And such work is paying off.

A woman stands outside and looks past the camera. She looks pensive and listening

“We had a case when the child of primary school age came and hardly spoke: it was very difficult for him to express his opinion, difficult to communicate with children, very reserved.

And in two weeks, while they were working with us in the classroom, while they attended various activities, the child opened up a lot: he started to communicate, found friends, and was excited to go home after classes.”

Olena Mozol, a psychologist at the KOLO Clubs location in the Kulykivka community.

Children listen to and play guitar at a KOLO club.

Each of the visitors to the clubs has their own life experience: there are many internally displaced children, children who have survived the occupation or active hostilities in their locality, many children have parents at war, and, unfortunately, some have been killed.

The work of kids’ clubs goes towards helping children not to be trapped by the realities in which they live. And for parents and teachers, the clubs allow them to raise an active and responsible future generation in the midst of war.

This is a guest contribution from DOCCU
All photos courtesy of DOCCU

FCA supports KOLO Clubs in the Chernihiv region. Find out more about our work in Ukraine

FCA signs memorandum of understanding with Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine

FCA signs memorandum of understanding with Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine

Two men sit at a table exchanging documents while smiling. A Ukrainian and Finnish flag is on the table next to some flowers.
Oksen Lisovyi, Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine, and Tomi Järvinen, FCA Executive Director, exchanging documents in Kyiv. Photo: Antti Yrjönen

On November 6 in Kyiv Tomi Järvinen, FCA Executive Director and Oksen Lisovyi, Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine signed a memorandum of understanding. The memorandum aims to consolidate efforts at enhancing educational sector of Ukraine. 

AT THE SIGNING, Minister Lisovyi said, “Today, it is especially important for us to support children’s and youth’s bids for education and help them fill them knowledge gaps caused by COVID-19 pandemic and war outbreak.”

Tomi Järvinen highlighted that it is important for children and youth to have a vision for the future even amid the crisis. 

“In addition, we need to understand what the war’s cost is for mental health. We need to do all we can so that the children and youth get the support they need”, he said.

Furthermore, Minister Lisovyi underlined the importance of psychosocial support and said that the role of partner organisations is crucial, as Ukraine lacks internal resources due to the ongoing war.

A long term agreement on education

In line with the memorandum the parties agreed to cooperate on:

  • Rehabilitation of damaged buildings and provision of shelters in educational institutions.
  • Establishment of safe and inclusive learning environments.
  • Building capacity of educational institutions and stakeholders to provide better quality and inclusive education.
  • Providing capacity building and educational activities on MHPSS (Mental Health and Psychosocial Support).
  • Supporting the renewal of educational content.
  • Support of education stakeholders in overcoming learning losses.
  • Supporting the development of socio-emotional and interpersonal skills of teachers and students.
  • Support access to quality education and training for the most vulnerable groups. This includes people with disabilities, veterans and IDPs (Internal Displaced Persons).
  • Ensuring better transition from education to employment through development and implementation of labour marked demand-driven education and training programmes.

The memorandum extends for five years from the day of its signing with the possibility of renewal after this time.

Read more about our work in Ukraine.

Across the world, FCA’s local workers come face to face with catastrophes both in their work and in their personal lives 

Across the world, FCA’s local workers come face to face with catastrophes both in their work and in their personal lives 

Karam woke up when the earth started to shake. Marianna fled a war. Susan skips workdays to fetch water. These FCA workers now tell us what it’s like to live in the middle of a catastrophe. 

DID YOU KNOW that Finn Church Aid employs over 3 000 people? Or that 95 % of them are locally hired experts? Our local workers are the most crucial part of our relief work. For many people, catastrophes are a remote affair – for them, they’re a part of everyday life. 

In this article we meet some FCA experts who have lived through the war in Ukraine, the drought in East Africa and a devastating earthquake in Syria. They don’t see their work as just a job. What is at stake for them is the future – for their families and for their countries.

A man poses for a photograph.
Syrian Karam Sharouf has lived his entire adult life surrounded by catastrophes: a decade of war, pandemic and in February 2023, a devastating earthquake tore down thousands of homes and schools in North Syria. PHOTO: KARAM SHAROUF / FCA

Karam Sharouf from Syria has lived through a variety of catastrophes for his entire adult life. Still, he sees light at the end of the tunnel.  

“It started with a bomb-like sound, just like what we have been hearing throughout the war. I thought we were under attack again. Eventually, I realized that the earth was shaking. 

It was the morning of February 6, 2023. I was asleep in our home, on the fourth floor of a building, in the Syrian capital Damascus. In a state of shock, I grabbed my wife and child. Things were falling and breaking apart around us, but fortunately there were no injuries.  

I am Syrian. I am 33 years old. I have lived my entire adult life surrounded by catastrophes: a decade of war, then the pandemic, now a devastating earthquake. Our country is going from a crisis to crisis, and many Syrians are just waiting for a chance to get out.  

I have been working with FCA since 2019, when I became FCA’s first local worker in Syria. Even before that, however, I had ten years of experience in the organization. The earthquake has kept us extremely busy. In Syria, we have not had the opportunity to prepare for catastrophes like the earthquake and the pandemic, since we have dealing with bombs and attacks for the last decade. How to deal with something like an earthquake? We have had no idea.  

Just before the quake, Finn Church Aid had expanded its reach to Aleppo, as well as Raqqa, often remembered as the capital of ISIS. People in these cities have been living under enormous pressure and, after all the bad things that have happened, all they have wanted is a moment of calm. What they did not need was another catastrophe, like this earthquake – causing many to lose their homes or families. 

So, all things considered, it’s all very difficult, but I still see light at the end of the tunnel for us Syrians. That’s what keeps me going. After all, our mission is making people feel empowered. 

The future of Syria depends first on us, the locals, even if the international community’s help is also necessary. When people work hard for their country, this creates a sense of togetherness and unity. What annoys me is how white people treat us Middle-Easterners. I’ve seen none of that while at FCA, even though we are in constant contact with Finland and our other countries of operation. Almost all of the staff at FCA’s Syria office are Syrian. That is quite exceptional and gets us a lot of positive feedback. 

Marianna Zhurbenko, who has fled the war in Ukraine, would not hesitate to open her home to other refugees. 

A Ukrainian woman sits by a desk. There is a laptop on the desk.
Marianna Zhurbenko fled the war herself before becoming a humanitarian worker. She now works as planning coordinator in FCA. PHOTO: Antti Yrjönen / FCA

“I remember staring incredulously at the sky from the window of my home in Gostomel, west of Kiev. It was 24 February 2022, helicopters were flying overhead, and my phone kept ringing incessantly as my friends called in distress, telling me and my family to flee. All the sudden the war had started, and the front line was only 500 metres from our home. It felt like they were playing a movie just outside our window. 

The artillery fire started in the evening. That’s when my husband and I decided to flee. We packed our 9-year-old son, our six-month-old baby, and our dog into the car. We fled first to Kyiv and then to western Ukraine.  

I and my sons lived there for the next few months. I stayed awake, listened to my 9-year-old crying. Fortunately, the baby didn’t understand anything about the situation.  

Unknown families took us in to live with them. We tried to offer them payment for water and electricity, and they refused to accept it. The war has united us Ukrainians like never before. I, too, would open the door to other families if they were facing such a situation.  

My own values have also been changed by the war. Material goods no longer matter to me, while life, health, family, and love are vastly more important than before. 

We were able to return home in May 2022. Kyiv was empty and our yard was full of mines and ammo fragments. The mines were cleared, and now our children can play there safely again. 

Before the war, I was a supervisor in a sewing company. After we returned home, it soon became clear that this couldn’t continue. Although my workplace had not been destroyed in the fighting, all the workers had fled elsewhere and had no intention of returning.  

I started in June as a planning coordinator at the Finn Church Aid. I’m in charge of obtaining aid and making sure that all aid going to FCA’s schools, for example, finds its way there.  

I was an internally displaced person and I know how that makes people feel. It’s great to be able to help children, and I like what I’m doing here.” 

A Kenyan woman poses for a photograph.
Susan Abuba Jackson fled to Kenya from South Sudan in 2017. She now works in a refugee camp as a teacher. PHOTO: BJÖRN UDD / FCA

Susan Abuba Jackson, living in a Kenyan refugee camp, is a teacher. Sometimes, however, she must spend a whole working day just fetching water. 

“I am a teacher. The ongoing drought makes life hard for my students, but also for me. I have five children at home. Some days, instead of going to work, I must fetch water to keep my children from suffering. If I can’t feed myself, I don’t have the energy to teach. There are four of us teachers in the school. The class sizes are so huge that teaching while hungry and thirsty becomes impossible. 

I came to Kenya from South Sudan in 2017, fleeing the war. I remember seeing one person shot I fled with my children here to Kenya while my husband stayed in South Sudan as a soldier. 

I worked as a teacher in South Sudan for 12 years. Upon arrival here, I started as a primary school teacher. For the last two years, I have been working as a kindergarten teacher in a school run by Finn Church Aid in the Kalobeyei refugee camp. 

I like working with children. They are flexible, they learn quickly and are very outspoken. Early education is also especially important for children. It is foundational to all sorts of learning.  

The drought is currently our biggest problem. Normally we have 500 pupils, but many are dropping out of school because there is no water in the school, either. We can’t even offer them food if there is no water. 

The children here have a lot of special needs. Many have seen war, have been traumatized. Their parents may have died, and they may be living alone with older siblings. It is up to us to look after these children and make sure they get a good education, but in a situation like this, that is very difficult.” 

Text: Björn Udd
Translation: Tatu Ahponen

Ukraine: One year of war

Ukraine: One year of a war that shattered lives and put millions in need

All photos unless indicated: Antti Yrjönen

On 24 February 2022 the world changed for Ukrainians. After Russia’s invasion, millions of people became refugees, displaced within and without the borders of their country. Children were especially affected with schooling interrupted and families often split up.

SINCE THE very start of the war, FCA has supported Ukrainians with humanitarian aid, working with our partners. Now, we are heading a multi-million euro project to make sure children can continue to access quality education safely, whether in Ukraine or elsewhere. This is the story of Ukraine and FCA in the past year.

A timeline shows five different phases with 'phase 1' highlighted. Phase 1 - people on the move. Phase 2 - sheltering. Phase 3 - 
coming back. Phase 4 - preparing for the winter. Phase 5 looking to the future.

Phase 1 – people on the move

After Russia invades Ukraine, many people are forced to flee their homes leaving most of their belongings behind. Most are women and children. Not knowing where they are going or for how long, and often forced to leave fathers, brothers and grandfathers behind, the stress on people is huge.

FCA WORKS with partner organisation, Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA) to provide food, warm clothes, hygiene items and places to rest along the way.

A group of women and children sitting in front of a big window
Tyttö pitää sylissään toista, pienempää tyttöä.

Alina, 10, holds 3-year-old Emilia in her arms at a refugee aid post in the
village of Barabás, close to the Ukrainian-Hungarian border.

Escaping with nine children

A kindness of a friend meant Masha & her nine children could flee Zaporizhzhia, near the Crimean Peninsula.

The car they owned only had five seats, so her husband asked his friend for a minivan. His friend handed over the keys, no questions asked.

“As I was travelling I was crying. I was very upset. I was scared and afraid that something would happen on the way,” says Masha.

They packed pillows, blankets, documents & warm clothes as well as 3 violins for some of the musical children. One child had to leave their beloved piano behind.

When they finally arrived in Hungary Masha’s daughter, Alina (10) met a friend Emilia (3) at the aid post in Barabás where FCA’s partner, Hungarian Interchurch Aid distributed aid.

Alina brought one toy, her clothes and a colouring book with her. She gave the colouring book to another girl as they were on the journey, because the girl had no toys with her.

Fundraising begins

An illustration of a pair of hands with a euro currency sign in the middle

1 million euros within 4 days

Millions of Ukrainians are fleeing, often with nothing more than a small bag. FCA launches a fundraising campaign, raising 1 million euros within 4 days to provide refugees with emergency aid.

A man in a KUA green vest is collecting money in a box outside in the street. A person is contributing to the collection.

People give generously to help Ukrainian refugees during the first days of the war.
Photo: Saara Mansikkamäki

Families fleeing

In the first few days of the war, the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, estimates that over half a million people cross borders into countries neighbouring Ukraine.

The first wave of refugees are mostly women with children. Exhausted and scared, the first stage is to give them urgent items, like food, warm clothing and shelter and, in many cases, psychosocial support.

VIDEO: FCA staff were in the small village of Barabás Hungary where refugees were being welcomed
A woman holds a cat

Fleeing Kyiv wasn’t Kristina’s first experience of escaping fighting. She had left the place of her birth, Luhansk, in 2014 for the safety of Ukraine’s capital. Now that was no longer safe.

“It wasn’t so simple to leave. It was so crowded, people couldn’t get into the train.”

A woman holds a cat

Kristina & her cat, Lisa, managed to squeeze onto a train to the border with Hungary, where she received assistance.

“My husband, his family, my brother, my aunt, my uncle, they stay in Kyiv. Most of my friends are in Kyiv too. It’s terrible. We have just emotion and crying.”

An older woman in glasses looks at the camera

Nadiya was at home when the first bombs hit near her house in Kharkiv, which is located near an army base. The attacks were loud & frightening. She doesn’t remember leaving.

“My kids just took me with them.”

An older woman in glasses looks at the camera

Her family managed to reach the Chop railway station in western Ukraine. Now they’re waiting to cross into Hungary.

Nadiya’s biggest hope is that things will change for the better and the war will end. “Many children are suffering because of the war.”

Refugee points

FCA’s partner, HIA, sets up refugee points wherever there is a high concentration of people.

In Budapest airport, parents can take a rest, while children play in specially constructed play areas.

VIDEO: 10-year-old Maryanna shows us the content of her backpack at Budapest airport.
“I have sweets and a bottle of water, and here’s my cat. In Ukraine, I had a real cat.”
An illustration of an adult and a child running. Explosions happen above them.

3 million refugees

flee to the surrounding countries during the first month of war, 1.5 million of them children.

A young girl peers over a soft toy

Yelizaveta (5) hugs a soft toy. She and her sister Maryanna (10), mother Vironika, and grandmother Svetlana left their hometown of Odessa soon after Russia invaded Ukraine. At Budapest airport, they are thinking of heading to Bulgaria.

“I had a lot of friends in Odessa, but now my best friend is in Germany. But it’s a good idea to go to Bulgaria, because our Black Sea is there. There we’ll be close to Ukraine,” says Maryanna.

Lviv railway station sees thousands of refugees every hour, often boarding any train they can get, whatever the destination.

Eugene, Vitaly and their children were at hospital in Kharkiv when the bombings started. They were in the hospital because 10-month-old Ivor needs a heart operation. Now Ivor is in his father’s arms and cries out frequently.

Forced to leave the hospital in Kharkiv due to the increasingly intense bombings, their journey to Lviv took more than 24 hours. They came by train; children were sleeping at railway stations and on the floor of the train, they did not have anything to eat.

Father Vitaly Alyabev, Mother Eugene Musina, Ivor Musin (10 months) and Vitalina Musina (8 years) sit together at Lviv railway station.

Phase 2 – sheltering

With fighting ongoing in the east with no sign of an end, Ukrainians often opt to shelter in the relative peace of the west. Locals open their homes and schools to their fellow countrymen, many volunteering long hours to welcome people, feed them, and make sure they have a safe, warm place to stay.

FCA SUPPORTS operations in Berehove and Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine, providing temporary shelters for those who want to stay as well as continuing to help people on their onward journeys. Meanwhile, children are still not attending school, although some teachers are trying to provide remote learning opportunities.

The IOM estimates that there are around 8 million displaced people within Ukraine with humanitarian needs.

A women in a headscarf holds a cat
Larysa and her cat Bella escaped from Kharkiv in March, 2022.

Larysa, her husband, daughter and the cat Bella escaped from Kharkiv on March 1, 2022. Before fleeing, they spent four nights in the basement to escape the bombing raids.

“Everyone wanted to travel out of Kharkiv. There were a lot of people at the train station. The train ride was free of charge, but getting on the train was difficult because of the crowds,” Larysa says.

Larysa has cancer. She received treatment in Kharkiv, but the hospital was destroyed in the bombings. She hopes to get treatment for her illness in Hungary. Now Larysa and her family are staying in a refugee shelter in Berehove, western Ukraine.

“We are happy to have a place to sleep where it’s warm. We get food three times a day, we can wash and do our laundry, because there is also a washing machine here.”

Two weeks later FCA visited the same shelter and heard that Larysa was finally getting treatment in a Ukrainian hospital in the west of the country.

A woman folds clothes in an empty school assembly hall.

When Russia attacked Ukraine, English teacher Erika Pavliuk sent her students home and started volunteering at the refugee shelter set up at the school.

She also provides her students with online lessons. Some of them stay at home, as their school is full of refugees, but some have also fled. Erika is visibly moved when talking about her students. 

“They’re teenagers. We have our ups and downs, but we can always find a solution to our difficulties. I love them.” 

A woman folds clothes in an empty school assembly hall.

Erika takes a deep breath and looks around in her own empty classroom, as we ask about her hopes for the future.

“To be able to teach normal classes. I want to write on that blackboard and…,” she hesitates for a moment and starts laughing tiredly, “…yell at my students for not having done their homework.”

A woman in a cook's outfit clasps her hands and looks at the camera while standing in the middle of a large kitchen

Ivonna Kobypyavska manages a kitchen at a refugee shelter set up in a school. She’s worked in the same kitchen for 27 years already, but now she’s feeding refugees instead of school children.

Ivonna’s son went to fight in Kyiv, so she wanted to do something useful; hence, she continued to work in the kitchen without pay.

A woman in a cook's outfit clasps her hands and looks at the camera while standing in the middle of a large kitchen

Ivonna volunteers from 6am to 11pm in the shelter in Berehove, western Ukraine, cooking 400 meals a day in a school kitchen designed for 40 kids.

“It’s not a big deal,” she shrugs. “Routine, routine…”

VIDEO: Father Kirill, mother Ljubov, sisters Alica & Masha & niece Daria travelled from Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine on a long journey that eventually took them to Berehove.

A warm welcome

In the outskirts of Lviv, Viktoria (14), Maria (9) and Ivan (3) have just arrived at a shelter with mother Katerina and grandmother Svetlana.

Maria will have her 9th birthday in two days. The family left their hometown of Malyn because of the war. When the war started, the family waited, thinking it might finish soon. But when they started to hear bombs, they packed their bags and left their home.

The family was told that there were buses that could take them to Lviv and Poland. However, they did not want to cross the border to Poland and decided to stay in Lviv instead.

Two girls and a small boy on a bed smile at the camera. An adult woman sits to the side with her hand over her eyes.
Viktoria 14, Maria 9, Ivan 3 with mother Katerina, 30 minutes after arriving at a shelter in Lviv

“We are incredibly happy and thankful to be here. We were welcomed in the shelter,” says Katerina.

They left the rest of the family behind, so they want to get back to their home as soon as possible. Both Katerina’s and Svetlana’s husbands are fighting in the war.

An illustration of a tent

8 million displaced people

within Ukraine with humanitarian needs.

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676 metric tons

of assistance delivered by summer 2022.

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100,000 people

reached by our operations.

A makeshift shelter in a gym is viewed from above. A woman stands at the entrance holding a piece of paper.

A sports hall serves as a temporary community shelter for displaced people in Lviv, Ukraine.
Photo: Melany Markham/FCA

Phase 3 – coming back

While fighting continues in the south and east of the country, some places are safe enough to return. Many buildings are destroyed and electricity is unstable. The threat of air raids still looms. FCA’s operations evolve into the next stage – bringing teachers and children back to school and restoring a sense of normality after a long period of upheaval and trauma. With EU funding, we lead a €14 million consortium to restore formal education to 45,299 children.

A man looks slightly off-camera in front of a background of sunny trees.

“I see there’s a gap in understanding how to approach certain categories of people and provide them with qualified psychosocial support.

Now, a large number of citizens from other regions are coming to stay in Chernihiv, while at the same time, the city is doing its best to get back to the normal state of things.”

Oleh Halepa, Psychologist-Volunteer at Chernihiv Joint Volunteer Center.  Photo: Iryna Dasiuk / FCA  

A group of people are seated in an auditorium looking at a screen. The screen has a child leaning on her hands listening to an adult talk.

Oleh participated in FCA supported psychosocial support training to be able to support traumatised children.

“The coach impressed me a lot. He’s a very active, vivid person. The amount, structure and style of presentation of the information that we’ve learned during the training is something worth learning to apply in our future work.”

A taste of normality

In the summer of 2022, FCA organises several summer clubs for children, where they could play together and take part in activities. For kids and parents, it’s a small taste of normality.

Tanya Slautina and her husband Andzey are from Chernihiv where 60 per cent of the city’s 285,000 inhabitants fled to other parts of Ukraine.

A man and a woman stand in a park with their arms around each other.
Tanya Slautina and her husband Andzey Slautin are from Chernihiv.

“War has touched every aspect of our lives. The worst months in Chernihiv we were isolated in our home. Fear, explosions and panic were our daily companions. Fortunately our children did not see anyone dying, but they were quiet and sullen. All we could think about was survival. 

Our home is OK, but others were not so lucky. We organised a collection of clothes and other necessary items to help other families. Before the attack I worked as a bank clerk, but I left my job to be able to help my children and our community. The stress and fear brought us closer together. 

We all need help with our children, and the summer clubs are a huge relief for us parents, too. Our children Anastasiya, 6, Valeziya, 10, and Maksim, 12, have been going to FCA’s summer clubs for six weeks.”

A teenaged girl laughs as she leans against a brightly coloured wall. Pink flowers are in the foreground

“The best thing about summer clubs was seeing my classmates and friends. Nothing has been completely normal for a long time. First we had to study at home a lot because of the coronavirus pandemic, and then the war began.”

A teenaged girl laughs as she leans against a brightly coloured wall. Pink flowers are in the foreground

“During the attacks, we just wanted to go somewhere and hide. I’ve noticed that I feel much better now that we do things together. Working together and talking with others about how we feel and what we think has been extremely helpful.”

Sophia (14), FCA summer club participant.

Teachers play an important role

FCA’s education response for Ukraine emphasises teacher training and support. Without quality teachers, there is no quality education.

In a context like Ukraine, where war is ongoing, teachers need special training and mentoring to be able to assist their students, but also to cope with their own needs.

VIDEO: On World Humanitarian Day, teacher Ruslana reminded us how important teachers are in humanitarian assistance.

Zhanna took part in FCA’s summer clubs in Ukraine

“Many have lost trust in the world”

Zhanna Kudina is a psychologist and teacher in Chernihiv. 
“The war has caused a great deal of stress in children and young people. Some have had to endure exhausting journeys to escape, others have lost loved ones or seen things children should never have to see. The most typical symptoms include lack of appetite, sleep disorders and difficulty concentrating. 

In summer clubs, we have used various therapeutic tools, such as arts and crafts. At first, drawings were very dark-coloured, with soldiers, guns and missiles. Over the weeks, more colour, sunshine and flowers began to appear. Many have lost trust in the world, and with the clubs we try to provide them with a place where they can feel safe.   

As a psychologist, I know that support should be offered urgently after a traumatic event. The longer children and young people have to wait, the more difficult it becomes to deal with the mental scars. But I am hopeful, because I am here now, doing something for them, and because we have received a huge amount of support from Finn Church Aid. We are deeply grateful for that.” 

An illustration of an adult and a child. The child has a speech bubble above its head.

Psychosocial support to 4,590 children

FCA leads a project to provide children with psychosocial support services.

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Training for 905 teachers

to provide specialist support to children suffering from trauma.

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5,872 students

participated and benefitted from FCA’s summer club activities.

Phase 4 – preparing for the winter

The war enters a new phase, where attacks on critical infrastructure are common. The lack of heating makes learning in schools already difficult, and that’s coupled with the almost daily air raid alerts.

THE FREQUENT power cuts also make it hard for students to learn remotely, either at home or in different cities. FCA and partners respond by providing winterisation kits to families and starting work to make mandatory bomb shelters in schools suitable to continue learning in, even during an air raid alert.

VIDEO: Winter sets in and the need for proper reconstruction is urgent.
FCA teams prepare to replace windows and make bomb shelters suitable for learning.

We went back to see Ruslana, a teacher in Chernihiv, Ukraine who received psychosocial training from us during the summer.

A woman smiles at the camera
Ruslana uses the skills she learned in FCA training sessions every day

“Everyday is a challenge. The war has had an influence on every aspect of our lives, our daily routines. Now we are planning how we could organize the teaching in shelters as we spend quite a lot of time there depending on the week.”

Children seem to be quite flexible when it comes to psychosocial wellbeing. However, you never know what triggers them. It might be an air raid, the sound of a siren. Some of them start crying. Some of them just stay still. Of course, some of the students stay positive, but some of them are really pessimistic and in despair.

The new methods and psychosocial support skills we learnt have supported us during this autumn. Many of our teachers are using those methods on a regular basis here at school.” 

“This has been a life lesson”

We also revisit Zhanna, who explains that, after so many months of war, she and her colleagues are doing their best to overcome the anxiety syndrome and stress many children are currently experiencing.

A woman looks at the camera in front of a dark background
Zhanna has used new skills provided by FCA training to help her students

According to Zhanna, approximately 30 % of students show signs of stress syndrome. They show symptoms like anxiety, loss of appetite, bad sleeping, and screaming while having nightmares.

She explains that during the Russian military presence in the region, three students of her school lost their lives. Some students experienced violence and oppression.

One of the school shelters has been organized as a psychosocial hub for children. It is a safe place where children participate for example in art therapy and learn relaxing breathing techniques.

When asked about her thoughts on the future, Kudina says that she hopes for the best and peace. “This all has been a kind of a lesson to us by life. It has developed our survival skills, the skills with which we can live this over. We should somehow try to program ourselves for the best. Positive thinking will bring a positive future.”

A dark street is only lit up by the light from car headlamps. People cross the street lit up by the headlamps.

Power outages or “blackouts” are frequent in Chernihiv and across Ukraine. Sometimes cities only have a few hours of electricity a day.

A dark street with a person sillohuetted is only lit up by the light from car headlamps.

FCA supports the installation of generators in schools to cope with the loss of electricity.

Children spend Christmas without their fathers

Many families will spend this year with fathers, brothers and uncles at the frontline or never coming back from the war. FCA supports 71 children in Chernihiv with Christmas gifts and activities.   

Oleh (11) and Polina (13) both lost their fathers in the war. Both students are learning online, despite power cuts.

Polina (13) and Oleh (11) received Christmas gifts, supported by FCA.

Says Polina, “I love drawing and have been doing arts for eight years. I like online learning, because it’s safer and the teacher can give you specific attention.”

“My family is the best family in the world. We have some Christmas traditions, such as decorating the Christmas tree on the 24th of December. This year it will just be me, my mother, grandmother and my brother.”

Schools destroyed

Schools, as well as hospitals and critical infrastructure have all suffered intense damage. For Ukraine’s young people, it’s been a disorientating and distressing year.

Since September 2022, the 1,200 students of Lyceum Number 25 in Zhytomyr have been studying in temporary learning spaces.

Kateryna Tkachenko, 9th grader at Lyceum Number 25 in Zhytomyr, Ukraine looks at the camera standing in front of the destroyed school.

Kateryna Tkachenko is a 9th grader at Lyceum Number 25 in Zhytomyr, Ukraine. The school was destroyed by a missile strike on March 4, 2022.

“In spring 2022, we had to take a two-month study break, and then we continued with online lessons. I felt so lucky when I was able to start my 9th grade offline. I prefer offline learning because of better communication.”

Rubble strewn on the ground. In the foreground is an open book with charred pages.

“The war has caused a lot of problems in Ukraine. Thanks to my parents, friends and teacher, I have coped with all challenges. I miss everything in my destroyed school: the building, classrooms and atmosphere. It was very important to me.

I want to finish school with excellent grades and go to university. I want to travel the world and have a good life.”

An illustration of a school.

3,098 education institutions

have suffered bombing, FCA will support the rehabilitation of 147 schools.

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71 children

in Chernihiv supported by FCA in 2022 with Christmas gifts and activities.

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31,100 learner kits

will be distributed to children in need in the project locations.

VIDEO: On the International Day of Education 2023, we meet a teacher and a student
at their destroyed school in Zhytomyr, Ukraine.

Phase 5 – looking to the future

As the country reaches one year at war, Ukraine’s children must return to school. FCA leads a multi-million euro set of programmes to make sure teachers and students have everything they need to learn safely, in comfort and flexibly.

A family gather around a table full of food. A girl pours a drink.

The New Year’s celebrations at this family’s house are a moment of joy. Mother Oksana was injured in a rocket attack at the start of the war and daughter, Maria, is still shaken by witnessing her mother’s plight.

A man and a teenaged boy sit on a sofa with a chessboard between them. A girl in the foreground walks out of the shot.

15 year old Kyryl plays chess with his father, Mykola, who is home from the war during New Year.

Two girls in Ukrainian national dress stand in a doorway singing.

In Ukraine, the new year is celebrated by children going door to door and singing for candy.

The New Year brings families back together

In Ukraine, the New Year is celebrated between the 13th and 14th of January. Many families celebrate, with some male family members being able to return for a few days to join their families.

The event provides a moment of reflection on the year’s events with hope for the future.

VIDEO: The Old New Year is celebrated in Ukraine on the night of 13 to 14 January.
FCA staff spent the New Year with a Ukrainian family.

Children return to schools

After months of online learning, often interrupted by power outages, children have the chance to come back to the classroom.

With EU-funded FCA support, schools are rehabilitated with improved facilities, like reinforced windows and specially equipped bomb shelters, where kids can continue learning even during air raid alerts.

FCA also works to develop school curriculums, in order to make learning as flexible as possible, so that children can have access to education wherever they are.

A destroyed school is depicted on the other side of a reflective pool of water. In front of a school a person in a green t shirt holds a red umbrella.

School number 21 was completely demolished during the fighting in Chernihiv, Ukraine in spring 2022.

FCA works with rehabilitating schools and arranging temporary learning spaces.

A girl sits on a school stage next to bags full of books that bear the logos of FCA and the EU

”I do not like to learn from home. The best thing at school is to spend time with my friends”, says Daryna Khomenko.  

Daryna is now excited to return to the classroom after the rehabilitation of her school has been finalised in early 2023. She’s also received learning materials through the project funded by EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO). 

VIDEO: Schools need new windows and doors to keep safe and warm.
Funded by the EU, FCA gives children kits with school materials so they can keep learning remotely.

Ukrainians join FCA Staff

There are now over 20 professionals working in FCA’s Ukraine country office and most of them are locals like Marianna Zhurbenko.

Marianna remembers how on February 24, 2022 she stared in disbelief at the sky from the window of her own home in Gostomel, west of Kyiv.

Helicopters buzzed in the sky and the phone rang non-stop. Friends called in distress and told Marianna and her family to flee. The war had started suddenly, and the front line was only 500 meters from Marianna’s home.

“It felt like I was watching a movie from my window,” Marianna recalls.

In the evening, the uproar of artillery fire began, and that’s when Marianna and her husband decided to leave. They packed the family’s 9-year-old son, a six-month-old baby and a dog into the car and set off first for Kiev and then for western Ukraine. Marianna and the boys lived there for the next months.

Marianna stayed awake a lot and listened to her elder son’s crying at night. Fortunately, the youngest didn’t understand anything about the situation.

“Random families took us in to live with them. We tried to offer them payment for the water and electricity we used, but they refused to accept it,” says Marianna and describes how the war has united Ukrainians. She would also open the door to foreign families if such a situation came up again.

“The war has changed my own values. I realized that material don’t matter. Life, health, family relationships and love became important values ​​for me.”

In May, it became clear that although her former workplace had not been destroyed in the war, all the workers had fled elsewhere and were not going to return.

In June 2022, Marianna started as a logistics coordinator at Finn Church Aid. She is responsible for procurement and that supplies going to FCA-supported schools find their destination.

“I was an IDP, and I know how people feel. I love being able to help children. I like myself doing this job,” says Marianna.

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3 oblasts

Kyiv, Chernihiv and Zhytomyr.

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21 staff

Programs, finance,
operations and support.

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2 offices

Head office in Kyiv, field office in Chernihiv.

Learning continues in bomb shelters

Nowadays, a functioning Ukrainian school must have a functioning bomb shelter, because there can sometimes be several air raid alerts per day.

FCA equips school bomb shelters so that everyday life can continue in them as normally as possible even during an air raid alert.

VIDEO: 15-year-old Nastya Tabenska shows us around her bomb shelter at her school in Chernihiv, Ukraine.

FCA will stay in Ukraine, providing quality education for all through curriculum development, training and reconstruction.

A person in a hooded winter jacket unloads bags of items from a packed van. The jacket bears the logo of FCA.

“There are a lot of challenges in Ukraine, but FCA with its Ukrainian partners sees that education is a real investment in the future. It’s not always something that you can see immediately. You know, if somebody is hungry and you give them food, you can see immediately that the need is satisfied, but education is more of a long-term investment.”

A woman standing in front of a destroyed building smiles at the camera.

“We have students who need some hope for the future. And without the ability to learn and to create opportunities for themselves in terms of future learning, future employment, all those other basic needs are not enough.”

FCA Ukraine Country Director,
Patricia Maruschak

The future of children and youth cannot be put on hold

Although fighting continues, children can’t wait to go back to school. 
FCA leads a €14 million EU funded consortium with Save The Children, People in Need and War Child Holland to repair and upgrade schools, provide children with learning kits and train teachers in a new more flexible curriculum. 

  • Schools will be equipped with learning spaces that also act as bomb shelters, special reinforced windows and flexible learning spaces.  
  • Children will be supported with psychosocial services and teachers will be trained and mentored to provide these.   
  • FCA also works with local partners savED, GoGlobal and DOCCU to assess damage and work with local authorities.  

Find out more about our work on the Ukraine country page.