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Readers ask: How are public services operating in Ukraine?

Readers submitted questions about public services in Ukraine. Oscar Volpe of Chicago asked, “Where, if anywhere, are health and education services (e.g. schools, hospitals, mental health clinics) still running? How are communities coming together to take care of the most vulnerable populations?” To get the answer we asked Megan Specia, a correspondent who has been writing about life in Ukraine during the war.

The situations in schools, hospitals and other institutions varies widely across Ukraine, but virtually no community has been left untouched as the war, now in its third month, tears at the fabric of the country’s social institutions. Despite the devastation, community-led efforts and international support have allowed many hospitals and schools to continue to function.

Hospitals in cities at the center of the fighting have transferred chronically ill patients to safer facilities in the west of the country or have — with the support of international aid organizations — evacuated patients elsewhere in Europe for care. Medical staff have turned their attention to dealing with an influx of trauma patients. They have been aided by supplies sent by donors abroad and expertise shared by trauma specialists.

The Russian assault has been a nightmare for expectant mothers, particularly in cities like Mariupol, Kharkiv and Chernihiv that have been under almost constant bombardment.

Women across the country have been forced to give birth in cold, decrepit basements or subway stations crowded with people taking shelter from shelling, and without electricity, running water or midwives to assist them.

Dislocation and stress are affecting many of Ukraine’s pregnant women. Doctors say that refugees who are pregnant face a higher risk of disease, death during childbirth and mental health issues that can continue after the birth. Babies born to displaced people have higher rates of premature birth, low birth weight and stillbirth, according to doctors.

Russian missiles, bombs and artillery have destroyed hospitals and health clinics across the country.

Schools have also been affected, but many have been able to rely on online learning as they try to continue education for the 5.5 million school-age children who remain in the country.

Students in Ukraine are taking part in remote learning, in-person classes, or a mixture of both, with more than 3.8 million students back in school, officials say. More than 15,000 schools have instituted remote learning, according to recent figures from the Ministry of Education, and a few dozen have a blend of in-person and online learning. Students and teachers who are taking part in classes remotely described how lessons have continued as normal, save for when the air-raid sirens start and those in embattled cities have to take shelter, which can derail that day’s learning.

There are nearly 1,000 schools in areas where education has been suspended entirely because the security situation is so tense, officials said. And many classrooms across Ukraine are simply unusable after being damaged or destroyed, or used in some areas for military purposes, particularly in the east of the country, which is now experiencing the fiercest fighting.

Officials at UNICEF, which has been supporting schools in eastern Ukraine, said that at least one in six schools they work with in that region had been damaged or destroyed since the start of the war. The organization began working with Ukraine’s Ministry of Education on a program called “Safe Schools” after attacks on schools in the Donbas region when fighting began there in 2014.

Hundreds of thousands of students have been forced to flee the country since the Russian invasion began. Those who have scattered across Europe have joined classrooms in unfamiliar countries and in unfamiliar languages. Many have been able to take advantage of initiatives rolled out by Ukraine’s ministry of education and aid groups that allow students to continue their studies online while sheltering abroad.

Andrew E. Kramer contributed reporting.

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