Though their classrooms lie in ruins in the shelled Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, students from School No. 134 celebrated their graduation in style over the weekend.
Wearing prom dresses and tuxedos, teenagers returned to their high school, dancing a sombre waltz and posing for graduation photos, as family, friends and soldiers looked on, according to the Ukrainian outlet Suspilne.
One of the students is a 16-year-old only identified as Valerie. A now viral Facebook post shows the teen in a flowing, red ballgown, standing outside a hallway in the destroyed school. The photo was uploaded Monday by Valerie’s aunt, Anna Episheva.
What students and staff are saying: “Had a lot of friends from school, we were like one big family,” Valerie is quoted in the post.
“With the girls we were choosing dresses and were excited that everyone would be very beautiful on prom day. But to us came ‘Russkiy World’ and ruined all our plans that we so dreamed of!”
According to the post, the school was directly hit by Russian ordnance on Feb. 27, a weekend where shelling in Kharkiv left dozens dead and hundreds wounded, according to an adviser to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine.
- “Today she came back to what is left of her school and her plans for the graduation. Thank you, my dear Valerie, for being strong and brave, so proud of you and love you so much,” Episheva wrote.
- “We had imagined a different ‘last bell’ for our kids, but it is what it is, and we want to have a celebration for the kids,” said Olena Mosolova, a geography teacher.
- “I’m glad to be graduating,” said Hlib Opashnian, who was among the graduating students. According to Suspilne, Opashnian watched as his school was shelled and destroyed during the early days of the war.
According to Suspilne, about one-third of the school’s students returned for the impromptu graduation, convening just a day after a Russian strike in Kharkiv killed one person and wounded three.
The Russian army “does not leave Kharkiv alone and constantly keeps people in fear,” a local mayor, Ihor Terekhov, said.
Millions of refugees, thousands in the U.S.: The Russian invasion has displaced millions of people, making it one of the largest humanitarian crises since World War II. Here’s the latest from the U.N.:
- Over 7.2 million people have crossed the border out of Ukraine, 3.8 million of them into Poland.
- There are 4.8 million Ukrainian refugees recorded across Europe.
- Roughly 3.2 million refugees have registered for temporary status in European countries.
In the U.S., the Biden administration’s Uniting for Ukraine program, which seeks to match American-based sponsors with refugees, now has over 48,000 applicants.
- Over 6,500 Ukrainians have arrived in the U.S. under the program.
- U.S. immigration officials have approved travel plans for about 27,000 Ukrainians who have been matched with sponsors.
- About 22,000 Ukrainians who had initially traveled to Mexico to ask for asylum before President Joe Biden announced the program have been admitted.
The latest on Ukraine: The battle for Sievierodonetsk in eastern Ukraine continues, with much of the fighting now carried out in the streets, according to The New York Times.
The battle for the historic, now heavily damaged city is symbolic for both sides. A victory would mark a strategic win for Russia as it struggles to gain hold of metro areas — for Ukraine it would provide a moral boost for forces who are now facing a renewed attack across the eastern front.
“In many ways, the fate of our Donbas is being decided there,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday, referring to the eastern region where Russia has concentrated much of its forces in the last two months.