Antonina Sidorenko has put on her favorite clothes, selected the prettiest ribbon to adorn her hair, and can recite by heart the poem given by her schoolteacher.
But with lessons taking place at home to the background sound of gunfire and shelling, this is no ordinary first day back at school for the nine-year-old Ukrainian.
Sitting behind a desk in the middle of her sitting room, “Tonia” adjusts the mobile phone screen showing her teacher Natalia Vasylivna, best friend Igor and other classmates she has not seen since Russia’s February invasion.
“I’m happy to be back at school but I would be even happier if there was no war because I miss my teacher and my friends,” she told AFP, saying her best friend had fled to Poland.
Antonina, five-year-old sister Sonia and parents Natalia and Andriy live in Pokrovske, a hamlet of 24 people in the southern region of Mykolaiv near the frontline.
Remote learning is in place across the region due to the fighting.
For Natalia and Andriy, that posed significant technical challenges, and they only managed to configure the Zoom app on their mobile phone a few days before September 1, when schools returned nationwide.
They also made sure the internet router was working. After their electricity was cut off in the summer, the family gets its power from a solar panel supplied by an NGO.
But there’s little they can do against cannons. The boom of Ukrainian artillery fire reverberates at regular intervals, followed by the Russian reply. Two days previously, their kitchen windows were smashed by shrapnel.
Antonina, a young girl with bright blond plaits, has already stopped flinching when the sounds of war echo in the distance.
“At the start, when there was shelling near the house, I used to hide and lie on the floor. But now, when it’s far away, I’m used to it and I’m not scared,” she said.
While her teacher attempts to get to grips with Zoom, Antonina shows off the room she shares with Sonia.
“Now we sleep on the floor, that way we won’t be killed by the shrapnel,” she said.
In the courtyard, she feeds the rabbits, her favourite animals. The rabbits, a pig and two cows are the reason why the family is staying put despite the danger. (TimesOfIsrael)