UZHHOROD, Ukraine — The teenagers, all wearing white sashes with the word “graduate” draped across them, clustered together and laughed as they walked through the Old City looking for somewhere to go out.
Alina Pyda, 16, was among the group of friends who gathered last week to celebrate their graduation from their school in the western Ukrainian city of Uzhhorod in the heat of a June evening. In the autumn, she plans to enter the local university’s tourism program.
Graduation is a high point in many young people’s education, but for these students, this coming-of-age moment amid the war is especially poignant and a time to reflect on their faith in the country’s future.
“The war started just before our graduation from school,” Alina said. “We were not ready at all for that. I have mixed feelings today.”
Though many school graduates plan to continue their studies remotely from abroad, Alina said she was committed to staying and studying in her home city.
“I hope the war will end by the end of this year, so I want to study here,” she said. “Tourism is not possible in Ukraine these days, but it will be for sure after our victory.”
Not all students have had such a straightforward graduation process. In the country’s east, the grinding war made it impossible for some to complete their studies. And in cities occupied by Russian forces, even organizing how to issue diplomas has become a battlefield.
Nataliia Siedova, 52, who works in human resources at a vocational college in Kherson in southern Ukraine, fled to the safety of Uzhhorod in April with the intention of spending two weeks there to process the diplomas of students set to graduate from the university this year.
Now, months later, she is still working on securing all of the necessary documents and issuing them to students still in the city and to those who have fled.
“To issue them our Ukrainian diplomas, this is of the highest importance 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 have installed their own government and made a concerted push to bring the city bureaucratically and administratively closer to Moscow.
The Russian-backed government has moved to bring in the ruble to replace Ukrainian currency and paperwork, and has tried to make Russian the language of diplomas and other educational documents.
For now, Ms. Siedova, while taking refuge in this city in the west, will continue pushing for her students to receive Ukrainian diplomas.
“It was very difficult to leave knowing that most of my colleagues are staying there,” she said. “But we are doing all that we can.”