Bakosh is a tiny village in Zakarpattia Region, not far from Chop. And Chop, as we in Ukraine were taught at school, is the most Western point of Ukraine. The distance from Bakosh village to the border is three kilometers straight. There are less than 1000 residents according to the official numbers in Bakosh. However, about 300 students study at Bakosh lyceum, which is many for such a small village. This is the only one high school with Ukrainian language of teaching in the whole hromada (an administrative unit in Ukraine). Moreover, the school is currently a shelter for the internally displaced people. A quiet and warm shelter. It is located in the very west of Ukraine, as western as it is possible. There are relatively few air alarms and there is no curfew in Zakarpattia Region at all. However, the Ukrainian saying “my cottage is at the edge” (meaning, I don’t engage in solving the issues of some local community) is not about the Bakosh community.
The school building has not seen major renovations for a long time. It was meant to be renovated within a Ukrainian governmental program “Velyke Budivnytstvo” (“Велике будівництво”). On February 23rd, a commission came to examine the building. It was promised the works would start in March. But everything changed on February 24th.
Right after the full-scale Russian invasion, several active school employees met in ZOOM to think over how they will act now. They understood the need to accept IDPs in their region soon, that’s why they started turning classrooms into dormitories, wasting no time. They also equipped shower rooms, brought several refrigerators, and plumbed in washing machines in the neighboring kindergarten.
Angelika Ulyhanets, acting in the lieu of the lyceum headmaster, contacted many volunteer organizations and informed them about the newly created shelter. In the beginning, since February 27th, they hadn’t many people in the shelter, that’s why one day most of the food from the shelter was transferred to the frontline. And the following day two buses arrived, about 40 people. “Elderly people, all hungry. Right from the bomb shelters. They came in dressing-gowns, in slippers. And it was frosty. Some people had fewer. So we started cooking dinner by ourselves. That night we thought morning would never come”, says Ivanna Khomich, lyceum’s vice-principal.
With time, it became easier. They got used and set up their work. Everyone in the lyceum knows his or her duties and the field of responsibility. They are ready for any challenges now. It was a time when about a hundred people stayed in the shelter. Now, at the end of August, about 30. In the pic moments the team managed both offline education and the shelter. The school canteen provided three meals daily for adult IDPs and four meals daily for the schoolchildren. Both teachers and cooks had to work extra time. And they still have to.
The residents of the shelter do not pay for meals or housing and communal services. These expenditures are covered by donors, partners, STAN NGO is among them. But people need money anyway, and it is not easy with jobs in such a small village as Bakosh. It is possible to find employment in the towns of Berehove, Chop or in larger Mukachevo and Uzhhorod. But then there is the question of commuting. Vladyslav, a designer from Brovary, Kyiv’s suburb, says: “It is all tied to the train route here. For a job interview, you need to go to Mukachevo or Uzhhorod, you cannot find a job in Bakosh. And you need to commute by train. However, it is very difficult to combine train schedules and working schedules. I tried but did not succeed”.
Parents with children face even more difficulties. Dasha, who came from Kharkiv, says: “There is a job, but you cannot reach it. I cannot commute like this. I have to deliver my child to kindergarten at 9 AM and pick up at 5 PM. Train departs at 6:05 in the morning, and the last one is at 21:35 – and this one goes only to Batiovo station (several kilometers from Bakosh – auth.), after which I would have to go to Bakosh by foot. At night alone is not an option for me”.
A good solution would be to involve people in working in the shelter. For instance, Yana Malyha came with her daughter Sonia from Nova Kakhovka in Kherson Region (her story is here). She stays in the shelter in Bakosh now, where she works as a psychologist. When STAN Youth NGO created a program of psychoemotional support, they tried to involve psychologists, firstly among the internally displaced people.
A good example is Zdybanka hub in Batiovo that was founded as a youth space. It is currently more than a youth center but an environment, a community of people of diverse ages, religious and national identities, and of common values. The events the hub organizes have reached outside Batiovo town. Since July 2022, a project VilnoHub is ongoing in Zdybanka. Young people from the IDPs community regularly organize activities with children, like educational events, workshops, board games, cooking or other things for the children’s leisure time, even at night time. For instance, one August night, children had a telescope and observed the stars and the Moon. Another night they were sitting at the fire telling ghost stories. This is fun, of course. But what is important is that young people who work with kids, are employed and are paid for their job. Vladyslav, Dasha and Sonia we have mentioned above are among them.
Thus, Zdybanka played the role of a base for a project of psychosocial work with kids. In the very beginning only IPDs’ children were involved, but later the organizers understood it is better to have such activities together with the locals: the latter don’t feel outsiders, and the former could more easily integrate into the local community and adapt to a new school.
As the school’s administration estimates, in September they could come back to classroom education. “For the last three years everything was mostly online, and the level of knowledge decreased catastrophically. We are aware that if we miss one more year, we can forget about children’s will for learning. And this is a loss. It depends on this generation how Ukraine will be renewing. If the educational process will not be interesting for them, they would only care about how to leave the country”, says Ivanna Khimich.
Coming back to offline education puts a question, what will happen to the shelter. There is a solution – an old kindergarten that has not been functioning for about a year because a new, private one was opened in the village. It had better conditions and due to the support from the philanthropist, parents didn’t need to pay for it. So, everyone sent their children there.
The old kindergarten stayed empty, and the lyceum administration planned to make a library in the building – before the full-scale invasion. But they are currently making renovations to open a shelter in the building: renewing electric cables, installing a heating system, equipping the kitchen etc. “We need to resettle people and create comfortable conditions for them. We will do everything, so that it will be even better in the new shelter. This is our first task”, says Ivanna Khimich.
However, the shelter’s residents are worried about the relocation. They worry if it will be warm enough in the new place, will it have enough space. Dasha says she would like to move out soon and rent a room. This is not an easy thing because rent prices in the western regions have gone up, the same can’t be said for salaries.
Shelter is a necessity, not something people have strived for. But for many, shelter has become a safety ring. “We have been very well welcomed here. Nobody did any offense to us. We came here with empty hands and were given bed linens, clothes, everything for hygiene. All the conditions have been provided, hot water was plumbed, we get meals here. We have been living here since March, and that means it is fine here. Of course, we try to do something. Someone is doing maintenance or other work. We offered to give money for food, but they (shelter’s coordinators – auth.) refused, saying we don’t need to pay at all. Shelter has warmed us, fed us and provided a job for us”, says Dasha.
Now the shelter is entering another stage of its existence. It is moving to another building and is preparing for the winter. Coordinators and residents are learning from the previous experience all the time. And the important thing is they are learning together.