On a bleak, windswept hillside in northeast Ukraine, three young boys recently made a discovery—one that is helping them bring school back to a daily routine disrupted by war.
Mykola Dziuba lives in Hontarivka, a small village in eastern Ukraine, a region that was still occupied by Russia at the start of the school year in September. A Ukrainian counteroffensive recaptured the area a few weeks later, but Dziuba’s school is still on remote-learning, a difficult prospect for many students due to damage done to the power grid across the country.
However, while Dziuba and two friends were wandering a hill in their village, they discovered something that was elusive and rare under months of brutal Russian occupation.
A cellphone signal. It was weak, but enough.
So they set about building a place to shelter from the weather and connect with their teacher online.
Dziuba told Reuters that they built a makeshift hut out of sand, rope, plastic sheeting and tree stumps.
Using their cellphones, they are able to attend online class and connect with their teacher. Sometimes they sit up there for hours, he said, but other times it’s too cold to stay for long.
School director Liudmyla Myronenko told Reuters she was in awe of the children’s desire to learn, sharing that it was clear that the kids had missed attending classes.
The kids were sent workbooks and, using their homemade school and the cellphone signal, they were able to transmit their work.
Their little tent and phone signal soon attracted others, including grownups separated from friends and families, desperate to make contact.
It’s been eleven months since Russia invaded Ukraine. Missile strikes by Russian forces on critical infrastructure in Ukraine have caused large parts of the country to plunge into periodic power outages.
Dziuba’s mother, Vira, told Reuters that the tent and the cellphone signal was a chance for everyone to try and connect with those outside of their village, to see if friends were still alive in other parts of Ukraine.
All thanks to three boys, a bit of plastic and wood, a precious mobile phone connection and a desire to study that even a war couldn’t stop.
With files from Reuters and CTVNews.ca`s Alexandra Mae Jones