High school students pose in front of a destroyed military vehicle for a graduation photo in Ukraine’s war-torn

Chernihiv on June 5, 2022.
Credit: Stanislav Senyk @senykstas (on Instagram)
High school students pose in front of a destroyed military vehicle for a graduation photo in Ukraine’s war-torn Chernihiv on June 5, 2022. Credit: Stanislav Senyk @senykstas (on Instagram)

The Reality of a High School Student Living Amidst The War in Ukraine

On December 21st, President Zelensky of Ukraine stood before the United States Congress and gave a mighty speech regarding Ukraine’s future. He called for the aid of the United States in the Ukrainians’ fight to defend their freedom. Zelensky strongly stated that the war will not end with the Ukrainians surrendering themselves and their land, but that they will win back their full freedom, and he is asking for America’s help in doing so in these tough times.


Zelensky ended his speech by inviting Americans to imagine the holiday season for Ukrainians in a wartorn country. I am calling for HSMSE students to imagine the life of a Ukrainian teenager. Individuals not so different from ourselves who are kept awake at night wondering how they are still alive. I have been privileged enough to never experience this, but I know many that have. I have family in Ukraine, and I am sharing their story so that you can imagine what they are going through. I am talking about teens who have to be high school students living amidst a war, specifically the Russian invasion of Ukraine.



It is a crisp winter morning, or maybe spring, fall, or summer. Who is keeping track of days or seasons in the middle of these underground train stations or basement shelters where it is night all day anyway? Do you know what it feels like to wake up to darkness every day? Though hungry, you know there is no point in looking around for food, and if you were to ask, most of the time, there’s none. Not being able to wash your face or even brush your teeth. Checking social media every second, not for pleasure, but to hear the news that your relatives aren’t dead. Nothing about this life is a typical teenage existence.


It must be unbearable that a warm dinner with family on Christmas night is only a dream. The daily struggle to study and learn with scarce internet and resources never lets up. You miss the friends you had and imagine the friends you could have made. In fact, the only people you get to know are those around you in the shelter who are barely managing to stand on their own two feet and need your help. None of the things you love about life are there anymore. You lay down at night hungry and wake in the dead of night searching for another blanket in the fierce bitter cold. You wake up in the morning with only hope for things to get better. 


The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been going on since February 24th, 2022. Since the beginning of the war, people all over Ukraine have been suffering. The Ukrainian government states that ever since February 24th to December 11th, there have been 440 children dead, 847 wounded, and all together, over 33,422 Ukrainians lost their lives due to the Russian invasion and attack on the Ukrainian people. According to https://saveschools.in.ua/en/, over the course of this war, 2,827 educational institutions have been damaged, and 347 schools have been completely destroyed. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has weaponized education. 


What can we do? As a start, HSMSE students can make the biggest difference in a person’s life by being aware, sensitive, and helpful in any way they are able to be. A place to begin is to become familiar with Ukrainian culture – culture is the identity of the nation and what this war is intended to destroy.  Did you know there is a Spotify station with the top 100 songs? Take a look at the finale of “The Voice” which was staged in the subway bomb shelter. A way to make a personal difference is to buy from small businesses on Etsy by searching for goods made in Ukraine. There are also countless ways to support Ukrainians in need by contributing to organizations, such as UNICEF USA, that are working to provide life saving aid. Do your own research and find a trusted non-profit organization. No contribution is too small.  Ukrainians are going through things that a normal teenager or any person should never experience. Experiences that we all hope we never have to live through. But in Ukraine, and other wartorn countries, the unimaginable is the reality. It is crucial that we stay aware, are careful of what we say on the internet or in person, and know what we stand for in these times of war. 

In honor of those who passed away during a war, still struggling with the ruins, or even living through one – still waiting to be seen and heard.

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