Indiscriminate shelling and targeted artillery attacks damaged or destroyed more than 740 schools in Ukraine, and both sides of the conflict used schools and universities as bases and barracks. Artillery fire, other explosions, and—early in the reporting period— air strikes occurred near schools, killing and injuring students and other civilians. Fear of such attacks caused many parents to keep their children out of school. Similar attacks also sporadically targeted higher education infrastructure and personnel.
Context Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovytch’s ouster from power in February 2014 prompted violent clashes between proand anti-government protestors in southeastern Ukraine. When Russia took control over Crimea in March 2014, armed groups took control of many towns and cities in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of eastern Ukraine, and an armed conflict began between these groups and Ukrainian forces. In May of the same year, armed groups proclaimed selfrule in a referendum on the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
In the Minsk agreements of February 2015, the two sides agreed to a ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the “contact line” separating the Government-Controlled Areas (GCA) and the Non-Government-Controlled Areas (NGCA), and access for monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Nevertheless, fighting and shelling continued to flare up.
Between April 2014 and May 2017, the conflict killed at least 2,505 civilians and injured between 7,000 and 9,000. Ceasefire violations by all parties to the conflict and almost daily shelling, localized clashes, and unexploded ordnances caused damage and insecurity in civilian areas.
The conflict led to a splintered education system, and fighting disrupted children’s access to education near the contact line. An assessment published by UNICEF in June 2017 showed that more than 12,000 of the approximately 19,000 children living in GCAs within three miles of the contact line lived in areas that were hit by shelling in the last three months of 2016. The same UNICEF report found that large numbers of kindergarten-age children living along the contact line were out of school because their parents saw the shelling as too risky and kept them at home. In addition, five respondents interviewed by UNICEF mentioned gender-based violence and specifically noted that older school girls faced abuse by soldiers, with the proximity and size of military installations being possible risk factors contributing to this violence. Between 2013 and March 2017, 16 universities and 10 other higher education institutions were forced to relocate to Kyiv, Kryvyi Rih, Kramatorsk, Severodonetsk, Kharkiv, and other cities, due to the violence.
Ukraine was not included in the 2014 issue of Education under Attack, as the conflict had not yet broken out and the country did not meet the reporting criteria.