In the village of Yampil in Donetsk Oblast, which was destroyed by the Russian army, about 200 people out of more than 2,000 remain, including 17 schoolchildren. The only teacher has organised a “home school” for the children.
The journalists of Slidstvo. Info visited the frontline “school” in Yampil to see how it works, what the children do and what they dream about, and how their everyday life is soaked in war. The video has English subtitles.
WHERE THE CHILDREN OF YAMPIL STUDY
The two-storey building of the Yampil school on Myr Street is broken and empty. Most of its students were evacuated from the village because of the war and occupation (Yampil was occupied from April to September 2022). Currently, 17 children still live in the village.
Olena Achkeieva is the only teacher left in Yampil. She helps students take tests and connect to online lessons. The shed next to her house, half-destroyed by shelling, is proudly called the “Educational and Counselling Centre”. Volunteers brought in a Starlink and a power generator, and the local education department provided two laptops.
“As they say, every little helped. We have what we have, and we are trying to convey knowledge to the children somehow,” social worker Olena Mykolaivna Achkeieva shows us around the small room, smiling.
There is a box with kittens in the middle of the room. “These are our anti-stress lumps,” she explains.
Olena used to work as a secretary at the Yampil school, and now she is retraining as a social pedagogue to continue working with children: “We go online for lessons or consultations according to a schedule. Teachers explain to children a topic they don’t understand.”
“The Internet is everything for children. Some teachers even come here sometimes if they can,” says the teacher.
The Internet is indeed a luxury in Yampil. It can only be found in the military or here at the “school”. During the two hours of class, the teacher occasionally pulls the children to return to their lessons and tests, as some open games on their phones and others scroll through social media.
“We’re doing our homework now, and then we’ll have a few minutes for personal needs,” Olena explains.
“IHOR, WHAT SHOULD YOU DO WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS?”
The teacher is surprisingly calm, despite all the students’ nagging. The only thing that throws her off balance is the explosions heard outside the window. Louder ones make her twitch every time.
“It’s difficult at the moment, you can hear it (talking about the explosions — ed.). We are responsible for each child. It’s calmer now, they are trying to do their homework, and the teachers are there to check,” says Olena.
The children say that the teacher lives in the basement because she is afraid of shelling, and they all go down there together when it gets too loud. In addition, Olena Mykolaivna assures us that everyone has been instructed what to do in case of shelling. When asked what to do during explosions, the boy Ihor confidently answers: “fall to the ground”.
The children are equally confident in explaining how to distinguish between “exits” and “arrivals” and how “cluster munitions sound”. Despite the danger, the schoolchildren assure us that they would not want to evacuate.
“WE SLEEP HERE AFTER OUR NEIGHBOUR WAS KILLED”
Veronika, 13, holds one of the “anti-stress lumps”. During the lesson, the kittens crawled all over the students’ hands.
“This is my home, I don’t want to leave. My friend and friend girl have already left. My friend girl got sick the next day, and no one wants to talk to my friend because he is from Donetsk region,” says the girl.
The teacher says that even the children here already have basements equipped as real apartments and do not want to leave.
“Perhaps our nature is such that we cannot break away and leave. It is very difficult to change your settled place,” says Olena.
The mother of one of the schoolchildren, Dmytro, who brings her son to and from school every day because of the danger, says that their family decided to stay, even though her husband insisted on evacuating: “Every day is scary, but I guess life is like that. I don’t think we are needed anywhere, and here I am at home, I don’t owe anyone anything.”
Their house, compared to the others in the village, is intact: the fence and roof were damaged and windows were smashed.
“It was on 23 February when there was a hit nearby. A neighbour was killed. I remember well that it happened at 3:46 am,” says Olena.
Since then, her son Dmytro has been afraid to spend the night in the house, so he goes down to the basement every night. Everyone has their own bed there.
“I’M AFRAID OF THE BOMBS”
Dmytro gives journalists a tour of the house. At the entrance there is a box with kittens – three of them: Bayraktar, Hymars and Abrams. He says that he named them himself.
Next, the boy takes us to his “military base”. On the table in the living room, there are military vehicles lined up one next to the other, made of Lego. He says that he has seen some of them on the streets of the village, and that the military told him about some of them. Dmytro calls them his “new friends” because his “old” friends and classmates left Yampil because of the war.
“I want to be a soldier too. To defend Ukraine” (smiles), says the boy.
Dmytro is convinced that a real soldier should have a bulletproof vest and an assault rifle and be fearless, but he admits that he is not quite like that: “I’m afraid of bombs.”
Despite the children’s fears, neither volunteers nor the police can take them and their parents out of the area by force. The Cabinet of Ministers’ resolution on the so-called “mandatory evacuation by force” applies to only 21 settlements, and Yampil is not on this list.