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War Crimes: By targeting schools, Russia is bombing the future

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War Crimes: By targeting schools, Russia is bombing the future

Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – When she was lying under the constipation, her legs were broken and her eyes were blinded by blood and …

Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – When she was lying under the constipation, her legs and eyes were broken, blinded by blood and thick clouds of dust, Inna Levchenko could only hear screams. It was 12:15 pm on March 3, and minutes before the blast destroyed a school where she had taught for 30 years.

Among the relentless bombings, she opened School 21 in Chernihiv as a shelter for frightened families. The word “children” was painted in large bold letters on the windows, hoping that Russian troops would see it and regret it. The bombs still fell.

Although she did not yet know it, the 70 children she ordered sheltered in the basement survived the blast. But at least nine people, including one of her students – a 13-year-old boy – will not want to.

“Why schools? I can’t understand their motivation, ”she said. “It hurts to realize how many of my friends have died … and how many children left without parents have been injured. They will remember it all their lives and pass on their stories to future generations. “

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The story is part of an ongoing investigation by the Associated Press and the PBS series Frontline, which includes the interactive War Crimes Watch Ukraine experience and a future documentary.

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The Ukrainian government says Russia has shelled more than 1,000 schools, destroying 95. On May 8, a bomb destroyed a school in Zaporizhia, which, like School No. 21 in Chernihiv, was used as a shelter. They were afraid that about 60 people had died.

Deliberate attack on schools and other civilian infrastructure is a war crime. Experts say the large-scale wreckage could be used as evidence of Russia’s intentions and refute claims that the schools were merely incidental damage.

But experts say the destruction of hundreds of schools is more than the overthrow of buildings and the mutilation of bodies, teachers and other survivors of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Syria and beyond. This prevents the nation from recovering after the cessation of hostilities, injuring generations and shattering the country’s hopes for the future.

Nearly three months after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Associated Press and the PBS series “Frontline” independently inspected 57 schools that had been destroyed or damaged in a way that indicated a possible war crime. The accounting probably represents only a fraction of the potential war crimes committed during the conflict, and the list is updated daily.

In Chernihiv alone, the city council said only seven of the city’s 35 schools remained intact. The three turned into constipation.

The International Criminal Court, prosecutors from around the world and the Attorney General of Ukraine are investigating more than 8,000 reports of possible war crimes in Ukraine involving 500 suspects. Many are accused of deliberately targeting civilian structures such as hospitals, shelters and residential areas.

Targeting schools – spaces created as a paradise for children to grow, learn and make friends – is especially damaging, turning the architecture of childhood into something harsh and dangerous: a place that causes fear.

Geography teacher Elena Kudrik lay dead on the floor of school № 50 in the city of Gorlovka in eastern Ukraine. Among the wreckage around her lay books and blood-stained papers. In the corner, another lifeless body – Elena Ivanova, assistant director – collapsed into an office chair, torn in the side wound.

“It’s a tragedy for us… It’s a tragedy for the children,” said school principal Sergei Booth, standing near a brick building shortly after the attack. Shards of broken glass and rubble were scattered on the concrete, where smiling children once flew kites and took pictures with friends.

A few kilometers away, in the Sonechka preschool in Akhtyrka, a cluster bomb destroyed a kindergarten and killed a child. Two more bodies lay in puddles of blood near the entrance.

Valentina Grusha teaches in the Kiev province, where she worked for 35 years, most recently – the district administration and a teacher of foreign literature. Russian troops invaded her village of Ivankov just as school authorities began preparing for war. On February 24, Russian forces moving toward Kyiv shot dead a child and his father there, she said.

“There was no more school,” she said. “We summoned all the leaders and stopped training because the war started. And then there were 36 days of occupation. “

They also shelled and destroyed schools in many nearby villages, she said. Kindergarten buildings were destroyed by fragmentation and machine gun fire.

Despite the extensive damage and destruction of educational infrastructure, war crimes experts say it is difficult to prove the intention of the attacking military to attack individual schools. Russian officials have denied attacks on civilians, and local media in Russia’s Gorlovka-run Gorlovka have blamed Ukrainian forces trying to reclaim the area in an explosion that killed two teachers.

But the consequences of the destruction are undeniable.

“When I start talking to the directors of the destroyed and robbed institutions, they are very worried, crying, talking with pain and regret,” said Pear. “It’s a part of their lives. And now the school is a ruin that stands in the center of the village and reminds of those terrible raids and bombings. “

UNICEF Communications Director Toby Fricker, who is currently in Ukraine, agreed. “School is often the heart of society in many places, and it’s so important in everyday life.”

Teachers and students who have survived other conflicts say the destruction of schools in their countries has harmed an entire generation.

Syrian teacher Abdulkafi Alhamdo is still thinking about children’s blood-soaked drawings lying on the floor of a school in Aleppo. There in 2014 he was attacked during the Civil War. Teachers and children were preparing for an art exhibition of student works depicting wartime life.

The blast killed 19 people, including at least 10 children, the AP reported at the time. But in Alhamdo’s memory are the survivors.

“I realized in (their) eyes that they would not go to school again,” he said. “This applies not only to children who fled with shock and injuries. This applies to all children who have heard of the massacre. How can they go back to school? You are aimed not only at the school, but also at the generation. “

Jasminka Khalilovic was only 6 years old when Sarajevo, in present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina, was besieged. Now, 30 years after the Bosnian war ended, he and his peers are still taking pieces.

Khalilovich went to school in the basement, like many Ukrainian children. Desperate for safety, teachers and students moved from the basement to the basement, leaning on chairs instead of hanging them on the walls.

Khalilovich, now 34, founded the Museum of Military Childhood, which catalogs the stories and objects of children in conflict around the world. When the current war broke out, he worked in Ukraine with children displaced by Russia’s 2014 invasion of the Donbass. He had to evacuate his staff and leave the country.

“As soon as the fight is over, a new fight will start. To rebuild cities. Rebuild schools and infrastructure, rebuild society. And treat. And to be cured is the most difficult thing, ”he said.

Alhamdo said he saw firsthand how the trauma of the war affected the development of children growing up in Aleppo. Instilling fear, anger and feelings of hopelessness is part of the enemy’s strategy, he said. Some became closed, he said, while others became violent.

“When they see that their school has been destroyed, do you know how many dreams have been destroyed? Do you think anyone would believe in peace, love and beauty if the place that taught them these things was destroyed? ” he said.

Alhamdo stayed in Aleppo and taught children in basements, apartments wherever he could, for almost 10 years. Continuing training despite the war, he said, is an act of disobedience.

“I’m not fighting on the front line,” he said. “I’m struggling with my kids.”

After the attack on the school № 50 in Horlivka, broken glass from the broken windows filled the classrooms and corridors, as well as the street. The floors were covered with dust and debris: cracked ceiling beams, drywall, a TV that crashed off the wall. A mobile phone was sitting on the table next to the murdered one of the teachers.

In Ukraine, some schools that still stand have become makeshift shelters for people whose homes have been destroyed by shelling and mortar shelling.

What often complicates the prosecution of war crimes for attacks on civilian buildings is that large facilities, such as schools, are sometimes repurposed for military use during the war. When a civilian building is used for military purposes, it is a legitimate wartime target, said David Bosco, a professor of international relations at Indiana University whose research focuses on war crimes and the International Criminal Court.

Thus, the key for prosecutors would be to show that Russians have targeted schools and other civilian buildings across the country as a coherent military strategy, Bosco said.

“The more you can show the pattern, the stronger the conviction that it really was a policy of non-discrimination between military and civilian facilities,” Bosco said. “(Schools) are a place where children need to feel safe, a second home. Obviously that destroys this and essentially attacks the next generation. This is very real. It has a big impact. ”

While the war continues, more than half of Ukraine’s children have been displaced.

In Kharkiv, which was under constant fire, children’s drawings are pasted to the walls of the underground metro station, which has become not only a family shelter, but also a makeshift school. Primary school children gather at the table for history and art lessons.

“It helps to support them mentally,” said teacher Valery Leiko. Partly thanks to lessons he said, “They feel like someone loves them.”

Millions of children continue to go to school online. The international relief group Save the Children said it was working with the government to create distance learning programs for students in 50 schools. UNICEF is also trying to help with online learning.

“Every child’s education is important to prevent serious violations of their rights,” the group said in a statement to the AP.

On April 2, the Pear community near Kyiv began to slowly revive. They continue to rake and sweep garbage from schools and kindergartens that have been damaged but not destroyed, she said, and are summing up what is left. They started distance learning, planning to transfer children whose schools were destroyed to other nearby ones.

Even if the war is still raging, there is a return to normal life, including schooling, she said.

But Levchenko, who was in Kyiv in early May to undergo surgery because of her injuries, said the emotional damage inflicted on so many children who had survived and witnessed such enormous suffering could never be fully recovered.

“People and children will need so much time to recover from what they lived,” she said. The children, she said, “remain underground without the sun, trembling at the sound of sirens and alarms.”

“It has an extremely negative impact. Children will remember it all their lives. “

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Stashevsky reported from Kiev, Diren from New York and Linderman from Washington. Associated Press reporters Erica Kinetz of Chernihiv and Michael Biseker of Washington contributed to the report.

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Contact the AP Investigation Team at investigative@ap.org.

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This story has been corrected to show the spelling of the surname of the Syrian teacher Alhamdo, not Alhamba.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or distributed.

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