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In the dark and cold of Bucha, Ukrainian children cling to youth, and remember the classmates they've lost

Ukraine's schools struggle amid power cuts
Students and staff at Ukraine's schools struggle to keep the lights on 03:42

As Russia's invading forces and Ukrainian troops entrench for what is expected to be grinding months of winter warfare, Russian missiles continue to target both Ukraine's energy infrastructure and its towns and cities. Millions of Ukrainians have survived the direct fire, but been left to survive freezing winter temperatures without stable electricity or heating supplies.

A group of kids bundled up against the cold, trudging toward school this week could have been a scene from virtually anywhere. But the morning school run in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha is anything but normal.
Regular power cuts mean it's not only cold, but dark as they make their way into their school building. Soon a generator kicks on, bringing warmth and light — both of which are in short supply in many of the children's homes.
Eight-year-old Dana told CBS News "it's very hard" at her house right now. There's no electricity, she said. "We're freezing at home."

Dana, 8, speaks with CBS News correspondent Imtiaz Tyab, at her school in Bucha, Ukraine, in early December 2022. CBS News

Running around the halls of their school, the children of Bucha laugh and smile, but the moments of fun belie elementary schoolers who've learned far too much for their age. These children know war.

Bucha sits just north of the capital, Kyiv, which put it directly in the path of Vladimir Putin's troops as they stormed down from Belarus, aiming to seize the capital in late February and early March. After a brutal battle, Russian forces managed to occupy the suburb in early March. Within just a couple weeks, however with Ukrainian troops mounting a herculean defense, Moscow abandoned the avenue of attack, moving its forces elsewhere.

When the Russian invaders pulled out at the end of March, they left bodies scattered on the streets. CBS News visited Bucha less than a week later and saw evidence of the killings, which Russia dismissed as "fake."

Residents react to alleged massacre by Russian forces in Bucha 04:14

Russia claimed at the time that the deaths occurred after its forces left the area, and that Russian soldiers never harmed a single civilian, but an analysis of satellite photos showed bodies strewn across Bucha's streets and yards long before the Russians beat their hasty retreat.

Some of the civilians found murdered in the town — which was one of the first of many locations now being investigated by Ukrainian war crimes investigators — were children.

Putin stands accused of nearly 10,000 war crimes to date 03:32

At the generator-powered school in Bucha, acting principal Iryna Vashchenko showed CBS News a memorial where the names of some of those children — Katya; Chekmaryov; Vanya — are written on a wall.  

"Every morning at 9 a.m. we have a minute of silence," Vashchenko said, "because we must never forget them."

A memorial wall at a school in Bucha, Ukraine, shows photos of local residents killed during Russia's attack on and occupation of the suburb of Kyiv, in early December, 2022. CBS News

Russia's ruthless targeting of Ukraine's energy grid has left millions of homes without power as temperatures plunge below freezing.

As she helped some of her students build a snowman, schoolteacher Diane Baima, a Milwaukee native who moved to Ukraine in 2014, told CBS News that despite the hardships, kids still need to be kids.

Baima met her Ukrainian husband after moving to the country.

"I kept telling my husband I would leave if I was unsafe. But once it happened, then I was like, 'I'm not leaving,'" she recalled with a laugh. "I stayed here."
And Baima didn't just stay, she kept teaching at her local private school outside Kyiv even as the war raged perilously nearby. She has seen some noticeable changes in her young students since then.

Schoolteacher Diane Baima, a Milwaukee native who moved to Ukraine in 2014, helps students build a snowman at their school in the suburbs of Kyiv, in early December 2022. CBS News

"I think some of them are a little more emotional, and sometimes sounds make them nervous."

"Maya's dad is fighting in the war," Baima said about one of her pupils. "So, she worries about that a lot… we need to help her through all of those emotions she's having."
The war wasn't far from the minds of the school's older children, either.  As he attended his English class, one boy told CBS News it was "very important" to him that the world help his country right now.  

"I just believe in humankind," he said.

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