© 2018 Diego Ibarra Sánchez / Right to Education Initiative
20 July 2020

[London] 21 July 2020. In eastern Ukraine, education is under attack. Since the armed conflict started in February 2014, more than 750 schools have been damaged or destroyed, dozens of children and teachers have been attacked, and there have been at least 37 cases of military use of schools. All of which has had profound effects on the right to education of the 670,000 children living in the areas most affected by fighting.

The armed conflict, now in its sixth year, and the resulting humanitarian crisis receives little media attention. Yet, the conflict has resulted in 13,000 deaths and 1.5 million internally displaced persons. The impact on human rights has been devastating. Violence and fragility have ravaged public and social services, including education. And the daily fighting means hundreds of thousands of children go to school in unstable, scary, and violent environments. 

Denis Puzhalin, coordinator of the Ukraine Education Cluster, says of the ongoing education crisis: 

‘In September 2020 children who were born when the conflict in eastern Ukraine began will now be first graders. During six years of constant fear, stress, and anxiety thousands of boys, girls, and their teachers, by their own example, have been proving the importance of continuous education on both sides of the contact line. Such a simple, routine thing as being able to go to school for some of them, is literally, a question of life and death. Of course, under these circumstances it is impossible to maintain the same level of quality of education as in the rest of the country. We keep hearing from teachers, boys, girls, and their parents that schools are the place for education and it must be the case despite the conflict. Schools belong to children and should be safe for all.’

The Right to Education Initiative (RTE) has investigated how education has been, and continues to be, affected by this protracted crisis, given the lack of attention the crisis gets and the lack of information available. In 2018, RTE started a pilot project with the photojournalist, Diego Ibarra Sanchez, to explore creative and collaborative ways to monitor the impact of the conflict on the right to education in eastern Ukraine. 

The culmination of the project is the multimedia essay Caught in the crossfire: The right to education in eastern Ukraine

The essay combines testimony, photographs, videos, infographics, and a human rights analysis. Together they weave a powerful story of how attacks have undermined the right to education, impacted the physical and emotional health and wellbeing of students, their parents, and teachers, as well as detailing the ways in which education has been weaponised by parties to the conflict. 

Jasminka Milovanovic, head of advocacy at Save the Children Ukraine, says of the report: 

‘The report in front of us is a vivid illustration of the life which is going on for more than six years in eastern Ukraine. This multimedia piece tells the story of a whole generation of children who want to go to school and feel good, the same way their peers living in other places do. For them peace is unfortunately still very far, and that is why it is important to refresh the memories of those who are in the position of power to stop attacks on schools and protect children, implement the Safe Schools Declaration, and provide effective and continuous protection and relief to all children who are affected by this conflict.’

‘This project is part of “Hijacked education” a documentary photographic project to explore the tension between education, childhood, and violence in war-torn countries,' explains Diego Ibarra Sanchez. ‘Attacks on education remain an untold story. War is not finished with the last bullet. There are still empty classrooms, destroyed schools, violence, psychological consequences, lack of education, and forced labour. The open wounds of the war and violence blur the future of millions of kids. Time, a time bomb, stagnates in exile and blots the sheets of school calendars that will never return. We need to raise questions through pictures. There are no memories without pictures.’

A core principle of the project is collaboration. RTE worked with on the ground partners, the Ukraine Education Cluster, international non-government organisations, translators, journalists, and videographers. Harnessing on-the-ground knowledge, creative storytelling skills, and its own right to education expertise, RTE has created a report that highlights how serious the education crisis is in eastern Ukraine. RTE calls on everyone who cares about the right to education to help raise awareness of this critical situation by sharing it with friends, colleagues, and anyone else who may be interested. 

But we don’t want to stop there. The ultimate aim of the project is to use what we have collected to advocate for the protection of education under attack, particularly through the implementation of international humanitarian and human rights law, as well as the Safe Schools Declaration, which Ukraine endorsed in November 2019. We have been working closely with Save the Children Ukraine to report the evidence we have gathered to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child—the international body that oversees the status of children’s rights across the globe. 

Erica Murphy, project officer at RTE, and author of the report, warns: ‘All sides must put children first and stop using education for their own political purposes. The international community, the Ukrainian government and military, and armed groups must uphold international law and stop all attacks on education. ’


Further information:

Caught in the crossfire: The right to education in eastern Ukraine

Social media kit

Legal factsheet on the right to education in Ukraine

Diego Ibarra Sanchez Hijacked education

Ukraine Education Cluster

The Global Coalition to Protect Education Under Attack’s report Education Under Attack 2020 - Ukraine profile

RTE page on education in emergencies

Contact information:

Erica Murphy (project officer, Right to Education Initiative):

Diego Ibarra Sanchez (photographer):