Statement by GCPEA Executive Director, Diya Nijhowne, on Attacks on Education in Ukraine

GCPEA strongly condemns the attacks on kindergartens, schools, and universities, in Ukraine
GCPEA, March 10, 2022
A kindergarten damaged by shelling in Stanytsia Luhanska, in the Luhansk region, Ukraine, February 17, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

(New York, March 9, 2022) – Over 210 educational facilities have been damaged or destroyed, since the escalation in hostilities began in Ukraine on February 24, according to the Ministry of Education and Science, although this figure has not yet been verified by the Education Cluster. Attacks included the shelling of a kindergarten and a university.  Two teachers were also reported killed when a missile struck a school in Gorlovka in eastern Ukraine. The nationwide closure of schools and education institutions has affected the entire school-aged population – 5.7  million students between 3 and 17 years old, and more than 1.5 million enrolled in higher education institutions. Special attention should be paid to ensure that the most vulnerable do not drop out of school permanently, including girls, and students with disabilities.  

Of particular concern, Amnesty International reported that an attack on a nursery and kindergarten in Okhtyrka, Sumy Oblast, on February 25, used cluster munitions and killed one child and two other civilians. Attacks using widely-banned cluster munitions with wide-area effects produce large blasts, which risk harming civilians and damaging civilian infrastructure, and may constitute war crimes.  

Even before the latest hostilities, GCPEA’s Education under Attack 2020 report found Ukraine to be among the countries affected by attacks on education in recent years. According to UNICEF, since 2014 when the conflict erupted, and before the current escalation, over 750 schools had been damaged or destroyed in Eastern Ukraine.  

In November 2019, Ukraine made a commitment to protect education in armed conflict by endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration. Since then, at least 1,000 military officials in Ukraine have been trained to protect schools and universities from attack or military use. Russia has never endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration. 

Schools and universities should be safe havens. Military use of schools can convert them into military objectives and make them a target for attack by opposing forces. Attacks on education can cause immediate injury and loss of life and can also have long-lasting consequences. Damage to schools, and trauma experienced by students and teachers, can mean that some never resume their studies or return to work.   

Education should be kept out of the crossfire. We call on all parties to uphold and protect the civilian nature of schools, students, and education personnel and refrain from military-related use of educational facilities. 

In particular, we call on all parties to: 

  • Immediately cease attacks on, and threats of attacks against, schools, students, and teachers, and avoid using schools and universities for military purposes, in line with: 
  • Avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas, including near schools or universities or along routes to or from them. 

Recognizing the bearing education has on achieving a better future, and its role as a seed for reconciliation and transformation, donors and international development and humanitarian partners should support the principles of the Safe Schools Declaration and protect students, educators, and schools. We call on them to: 

  • Prioritize and fund gender-responsive and inclusive programs that, in working towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4, seek to ensure that safe education can continue for all students, including children on the move; as well as programs that respond to, and mitigate the impact of, attacks on education on students and educators, taking into account the needs of the most vulnerable, such as explosive ordnance risk education, and assistance for teachers to work with displaced students; 
  • Support the establishment of safe spaces, such as temporary learning spaces, or formal or informal community centers, where survivors of attacks on education can receive legal, medical, and psychosocial information and services, and learn of opportunities to continue their education;  
  • Provide support to international accountability mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court (ICC), in investigating all alleged abuses and violations in Ukraine, including attacks on buildings dedicated to education, to prosecute, and hold accountable the perpetrators of these attacks; 
  • Secure the inclusion of dedicated, child-specific documentation and investigation expertise in potential investigations by the ICC and human rights mechanisms; and  
  • Call on all judicial and non-judicial mechanisms to collaborate and share knowledge and expertise relating to crimes against children and attacks on education.