This piece is from a couple of days ago, the writer is Dmitry Steshin, reporting out of Mariupol. His first photo gives us a glimpse of what has to be some of the most resilient teenagers in the world, as they report for duty at School #53 in Mariupol:
So these are not the cute little Russian kids that we have come to expect showing up for the first day of the school year carrying flowers for the teacher: Boys in sharp uniforms and little girls with those amazing ribbons in their hair. No, these kids look like typical teenagers in their jeans and hoodies. Dmitry even caught a couple of them sneaking a cigarette behind the bushes. He just didn’t have it in him to scold them, knowing what these kids have been through in the past couple of months!
To be sure, not everything is completely back to normal. Class time has been shortened, for starters, each lesson is now only 30 minutes.
When the school day was over, Dmitry was almost knocked down and trampled by the herd of joyous bisons streaming out the school, but in the middle of the stampede he managed to get a photo of this happy youngster in her “Elf” ears. The woman in the background looks like one of the moms, hanging out with a couple of smaller children:
Seventh-grader Artem grabs his bicycle out of the stand and examines the tires. He lives all the way on the other side of town, but for the time being School #53 is the only functioning school in Mariupol. “It’s too far to walk,” he explains to the reporter. I just hope this bike holds out, if I blow a tire I won’t be able to fix it, because I don’t have the parts.”
“Did you miss going to school?”
“For sure I got sick of just sitting around in the basement.”
“Well, it’s over now.”
“I know, but I don’t have anywhere to go. Our apartment building burned down. I used to have my own room, it was beautiful, through the window I could see the ocean, the ships…”
“Did you dream of becoming a sailor?”
“Of course!” he exclaims.
Steshin tries to comfort the boy as best he can: His apartment will be rebuilt, everything will go back to the way it was. He isn’t sure the boy believes him. The people of Mariupol are wary and cynical. People are telling them the city will be rebuilt good as new, but very few people believe this. They will believe it when they see it.
Everywhere in the city the residents have lit up a series of what they humorously call “eternal flames” — these are cookpots set up at the entrance to each ruined building, whose flames never go out. For many, the day consists of standing in line for water and other humanitarian aid, and then cooking up stews or heating water. On average, each bombed out building still hosts around 20 people, and each person is responsible for foraging and feeding him- or herself. To fuel these ersatz stoves some people are using broken up pieces of furniture, which is not good, because the odor of burned chipboard penetrates into the food. But the residents are insistent they are not going to cut down the trees. They will, however, take dead branches that fell off, or were blown off.
Back To School
Steshin follows a couple of adults who are working on restoring the school. The Director of the School is wandering the corridors with a notebook in her hand; while her trusty sidekick measures the windows with a ruler. The Director tells the reporter that new glass assemblies will be arriving as early as next week.
Steshin enters the cafeteria where it’s the turn of the younger classes to eat. Smaller children are greedily gulping down milk. Their hunger is real, not metaphorical. Oxana Vitalievna, who teaches Computer Class, tells him that the youngest kids are fed with bananas and cookies in the morning; the older kids get milk and a fruit pastry. The school does not currently have the resources to provide a proper lunch, but the soldiers have promised to bring in a military-type kitchen for them and start serving proper meals.
This school actually lucked out: the Ukrainian Nationalist battalions passed it by, it didn’t get shelled much either, more than half of the windows remained intact. People are cleaning it up, it’s so clean it’s almost sterile. Steshin chats with the Assistant Director Natalia Volkova. Before the war, the school hosted 1400 children, now there are 1200. Since this is the only functioning school in the city, they are pulling in all the teachers they can. Volkova herself didn’t even know that the school was still standing, until she heard the news at one of the humanitarian centers.
“Our biggest problem now: the senior classes have lost a lot of time, and they need to catch up for those missing months. We plan to stay open until July. When we first re-opened, there was still some disassociation going on: some of the children didn’t even understand that they were back in school and needed to study. But now I can hear them starting to laugh again.”
“Has anything changed in the school curriculum?”
“We increased the number of hours for Russian class. Before, it was just one or two hours per week. The curriculum will require Russian for 4 hours a week, with another 2 hours for native language [in case any kids have a native language other than Russian]. Currently Russian is the native language [for all the kids back in this school].”
The Broader Picture
Leaving Steshin’s piece behind, I have this quick update on the broader municipal picture. After the Azov Nazis were driven into the Azov Steel labyrinth the DPR leadership announced the return of civilian life to the city of Mariupol. Up until then, the city was under the authority of the DPR army. But as of April 6 DPR head Denis Pushilin appointed a civilian Mayor. His name is Konstantin Ivashchenko, a veteran politician and former Deputy of the Mariupol City Soviet. His party affiliation was “Opposition Platform For Life”, which was the largest Opposition bloc in the Ukraine before it was banned by Zelensky. Ivashchenko had also been, earlier in his life, the General Director of the Azov Machine plant.
In my next post, barring breaking news, I plan to do a similar piece on Kherson, and how this Oblast is adapting to the new situation.