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How the war in Ukraine broke up a kindergarten class

ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

There is this green classroom in Ukraine in the northeast city of Kharkiv, and it has books and toys and little desks. It's a place where 6-year-olds played and learned and laughed. I first visited last August. The school building had been hit by Russian artillery. There weren't any students there at the time. Schools have been closed since the war started. But two teacher's aides were injured.

YANA TSYHANENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: So you can see the bloodstains.

NADWORNY: The head of school, Yana Tsyhanenko, toured me around the colorful school. Windows were broken. There was dust and debris everywhere. But underneath, there was a hint at a life before - the lunch menu from the day of the Russian invasion, February 24, still hung on the wall - buckwheat soup and cabbage that was never served. Tsyhanenko opens a row of lockers to find they're still filled with clothes and shoes.

TSYHANENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: As I was leaving, Yana said to me...

TSYHANENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

TSYHANENKO: "It's not the damage to the school that I'm mourning. It's the destruction of childhood. I couldn't stop thinking about what had happened to the children who once learned here."

Over the next weeks and months, I set out to find them.

Hello.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: The students in this kindergarten - they are scattered all across the world and Ukraine.

OK. Will you tell me your name?

BOGDAN: Bogdan.

NADWORNY: In the western city of Lviv, near Poland.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: (Singing in non-English language).

NADWORNY: What's your name?

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: (Non-English language spoken).

SOPHIA: Sophia. Sophia.

NADWORNY: Others are in Kyiv or towns further west. One remained in Kharkiv.

When do you think about kindergarten? When...

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: "I think about the kindergarten before I fall asleep at night."

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: "I remember how it was, and I dream about what it would be if we were all back."

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: I spent time with children who were having trouble sleeping and scared. They missed their friends. They were trying to remember and trying to forget, but they were also laughing and learning new languages and beginning to dream. Those stories of these 27 kindergarteners - they make up just one classroom, but they also represent the millions of children from Ukraine who have left and who have stayed. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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