Education App Offers an Escape for Children in Ukraine’s Bomb Shelters

Oct. 12, 2022

As a wave of missiles and rockets descended on Ukraine on Monday, thousands of children and families sought shelter underground reliving the horror they experienced back in February. Despite this desperate picture, a sense of calm and composure is radiating from the subways and bomb shelters - captured best by children playing educational games on mobile and tablet devices.
This is the story of Can’t Wait to Learn - a fundamental part of our Ukraine Response.

Taking shelter

No child should be part of war. Ever. Just like no civilians or civilian infrastructure should ever become targets. Yet, on Monday, these basic principles were disregarded as missiles and rockets rained down on schools and homes across Ukraine with 19 people reported dead and 105 injured at the time of writing. From Kharkiv to Lviv, more than 100 missiles have been fired since the escalation in violence started.

In the capital Kyiv, a busy playground - known by all the locals - was among the sites first hit. Viktor, a teacher at a primary school in the city, was preparing for his first lesson when the air raid sirens sounded. “Several children had entered the classroom; some were just approaching the school”, he says. “We’ve become so used to the sound of sirens that we knew exactly what to do.

"I gathered the children and we made our way down into the bomb shelter, expecting to be back in an hour, as usual. But in the end, we had to stay there, in the basement, for over five hours.”

“My pupils and I had to hide in the basement for more than five hours""
Viktor, primary school teacher in Kyiv

A rocket attack leaves a meter-deep crater

Photo: Kyrylo Tymoshenko


Right next to a popular children's playground in the capital, Kyiv

Photo: Kyrylo Tymoshenko

A moment of escape and distraction

During those long hours, while the sounds of the violence lingered in the background, Viktor did everything he could to create an oasis of calm for his pupils. “We sat on the floor playing the Can’t Wait to Learn games on tablets and mobile phones. We solved math problems together. “I’m learning, not waiting” is the motto – and so they did. It also distracted them from what was going on outside and offered an escape when they needed it most.”

And what is Can’t Wait to Learn exactly? Available now to download on IOS and Android, the app is a collection of government-approved educational games that is granting Ukrainian children the opportunity to continue learning - no matter where they are.

Launched at the end of September - together with key partners, the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine (MESU) and NGO Osvitoria - the app has already seen some 8,770 children continue their learning journey remotely. The aim is to see a total of 70,000 children following the programme by October next year. “In light of the ongoing violence, the government took the decision to transfer all schooling to online - for this week and potentially for much longer”, says Kate Radford, Senior Consultant for Can’t Wait to Learn: Ukraine. “Can’t Wait to Learn was made with this crisis scenario in mind.”

Finding hope

Despite the renewed terror experienced by children and families overnight, Oleksandra Yarova, Communications Lead for War Child’s Ukraine Response and a Ukrainian refugee herself, echoes the same story as Viktor. “We’ve been here before and while it may be horrendous, I find hope in responses such as Can’t Wait to Learn. It’s a small solution that can ultimately have a big impact. This is why we do what we do.”

Yarova also goes on to explain how interventions like Can’t Wait to Learn may be education-focused yet directly contribute to children’s improved mental health and wellbeing. “The math and reading games were co-created with Ukrainian children”, she says. “Meaning, the ‘game world’ is familiar and engaging - it offers a sense of fun and comfort amidst the chaos around them.”

“In the 'game world' of Can't Wait to Learn, Ukrainian children find fun and comfort - in the midst of chaos."
Oleksandra Yarova, Communications Lead War Child Ukraine Response

Families take shelter in cellars and bunkers once again caught up in the brutality of war in their country

Photo: Oleysa Morgunets


Oleksandra: "The impact of the educational games on children is enormous. This is why we do what we do."

Photo: War Child

Schools and hospitals should never be targets

Talking of small solutions to a growing problem, War Child has contextualised its ReachNow Tool for use in Ukraine and neighbouring refugee host countries. This tried-and-tested tool is designed to support community members to identify children and adolescents in need of support and guide them towards pathways to mental health care.

This is a firm reminder that civilian objects - especially schools and hospitals - should never be targets. War Child and other humanitarian organisations must be able to access these services in order to protect young lives.

Around the world, more than 32 million children have never seen a teacher as a result of armed conflict. Meanwhile, hundreds of schools are used as wartime targets. Can’t Wait to Learn provides a solution to close the education gap for these children. Learn more about the programme and its use in countries including Sudan, Uganda, Lebanon and Jordan.