UZHHOROD, Ukraine – The teens, all dressed in white sashes with the word “graduate” draped across them, gathered and laughed as they walked through the old town looking for a place to go out.
Alina Pyda, 16, was among a group of friends who gathered last week to celebrate their graduation from school in the western Ukrainian city of Uzhhorod in the heat of a June evening. In the fall, she plans to participate in the local university’s tourism program.
Graduation is a high point in the education of many young people, but for these students this coming-of-age moment during the war is particularly poignant and a moment to reflect on their faith in the future of the country.
“The war started just before we finished school,” Alina said. “We were not ready for that at all. I have mixed feelings today.”
While many graduates plan to continue their distance studies from abroad, Alina said she was determined to stay and study in her home city.
“I hope the war will be over by the end of this year, so I want to study here,” she said. “Tourism is not possible in Ukraine today, but after our victory it will certainly be.”
Not all students have had such a simple graduation process. In the east of the country, the crushing war made it impossible for some to complete their studies. And in cities occupied by Russian troops, even organizing diplomas has become a battleground.
Nataliia Siedova, 52, who works in human resources at a vocational school in Kherson in southern Ukraine, fled to Uzhhorod security in April, intending to spend two weeks there processing the diplomas of students graduating from this year’s college. the University .
Now, months later, she is still working on securing all the necessary documents and issuing them to students who are still in the city and to those who have fled.
“It is of utmost importance to hand them our Ukrainian diplomas, both for myself and for our students,” she said, adding that their parents were extremely grateful.
Russian forces seized the city in March and in the months since installed their own government and made a concerted effort to bring the city bureaucratically and administratively closer to Moscow.
The Russian-backed government has decided to bring in the ruble to replace Ukraine’s currency and paperwork, and has attempted to make Russian the language of diplomas and other educational documents.
For now, while seeking refuge in this western city, Ms. Siedova will continue to urge her students to obtain Ukrainian degrees.
“It was very difficult to leave knowing most of my colleagues are staying there,” she said. “But we’re doing everything we can.”