Antonina Sidorenko can wear her favorite clothes, choose the most beautiful ribbons to decorate her hair and recite poems given by her school teacher.
But with classes taking place at home against the backdrop of gunfire and shelling, it’s not normal for the 9-year-old Ukrainian to go back to school.
Sitting behind a desk in the middle of the living room, “Tonia” adjusts her phone screen to see her teacher Natalia Vasilyevna, her best friend Igor, and other classmates she hasn’t seen since the Russian invasion in February. It’s showing
“I’m happy to be back at school, but I would be even happier if there were no war. I miss my teachers and friends,” he told AFP.
Antonina, her five-year-old sister Sonia, and her parents Natalia and Andriy live in Pokrovske, a 24-person settlement south of Mikolaiv near the front line.
Due to the fighting, distance learning is being implemented throughout the region.
For Natalia and Andry, this was a significant technical challenge, and they were only able to set up the Zoom app on their phones a few days before schools reopened nationwide on September 1st.
I also verified that my internet router is working. After the electricity went out in the summer, the family is powered by solar panels provided by an NGO.
But there is very little you can do against artillery. A boom of Ukrainian artillery reverberates at regular intervals, followed by a Russian counterattack. Two days ago, the kitchen window was smashed by debris.
– ‘Not scary’ –
Antonina, a girl with bright blond braids, had already stopped flinching when the sounds of war rang out in the distance.
“At first, when there was artillery fire near my house, I used to hide and lie on the floor.
While the teacher tries to get used to Zoom, Antonia shows off the room she shares with Sonia.
“Now we sleep on the floor so we don’t get killed by shrapnel,” she said.
In the courtyard, she feeds her favorite animal, the rabbit. A rabbit, a pig, and two cows keep her family safe in the face of danger.
Natalia explained that the pigs survived thanks to an irregular power supply, which made preserving the cutlets they had chosen impossible.
“What do you do in the city? Where do you stay? How do you live?” Andriy asked, hearing another explosion behind him, showing the damage left by the last attack.
“Did you hear that? It’s not over!”
– “Like a soldier” –
Andriy said he could earn 15,000 hryvnia ($406) by selling all his belongings, but the house would cost at least 100,000 hryvnia even in the nearest village Novooleksandrivka.
When the bombing becomes too intense, the family drives away for a while before peace returns to the neighborhood.
“You have to be like a soldier. Stay together, get ready, pack everything, hurry up, don’t hesitate, listen to your parents, pack up and go.” Natalia said.
The 33-year-old cherishes her daughter and is proud of her good results and artistic talent, which Tonia says she inherited from her father.
But behind her calm exterior, Natalia admits she’s very worried about her children, despite her best efforts not to panic.
She refused to leave, saying she had worked hard to build a house and save money for her daughters’ future.
The mother believes that returning to school will soon be unsuccessful. Tonia’s teacher hasn’t been able to set up Zoom yet, but her young student is taking advantage of the delay to chat with her longtime friend Igor.
Tonia insists on reciting a poem she has memorized.
“Peace will come to Ukraine. Good people want peace. Adults and children aspire to peace on earth.”