Weary but Determined, Ukrainians Vow Never to Bow to Russia

When Russian missiles struck the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv a couple of weeks ago, schoolchildren and their teachers installed in newly built underground classrooms did not hear a thing.

Down in the bowels of Kharkiv’s cavernous, Soviet-era subway stations, the city administration has built a line of brightly decorated classrooms, where 6- and 7-year-olds are attending primary school for the first time in their lives in this war-stricken city.

“The children were fine,” said Lyudmyla Demchenko, 47, one of the teachers. “You cannot hear the sirens down here.”

Ten years after the conflict with Russian-backed separatists broke out and two years into Moscow’s full-scale invasion, Ukrainians are weary but ever determined to repel the invaders. The war has touched every family — with thousands of civilians dead, close to 200,000 soldiers killed and wounded, and nearly 10 million refugees and displaced in a country of nearly 45 million people. Yet, despite the death, destruction and deprivations, a majority of Ukrainians remain optimistic about the future, and even describe themselves as happy, according to independent polls.

Kharkiv is a good example. It lies only 25 miles from the border with Russia and has suffered a heavy share of Russian artillery, drone and missile attacks. Most families fled at the beginning of the war or lived for months underground in the subway, as Russian troops came close to seizing the city. But the Ukrainian defenses held, families returned and the city came back to life.

In Kharkiv, 6- and 7-year-old children are attending primary school for the first time in their lives in classrooms built in Soviet-era subway stations.

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