Damaged school in Nikishine. Rebel fighters deployed inside the school between September 2014 and February 2015 and exchanged intense fire with Ukrainian forces.

© 2015 Yulia Gorbunova/Human Rights Watch

In eastern Ukraine, the armed conflict between the Ukrainian government and Russia-backed armed groups has disrupted the education of thousands of children. Since the conflict began in 2014, at least 740 schools have been damaged or destroyed. Both sides have used schools and universities as bases and barracks.

Human Rights Watch’s 2016 report on attacks and military use of schools documented how both sides used schools for military purposes, destroying many schools and forcing thousands of children out of school or to continue their studies in unsafe or overcrowded facilities. The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack recently reported that fear of such attacks has caused parents to keep their children away from schools.

When schools are targeted in wartime, kids are put in the line of fire and miss out on their right to an education. And when armed groups are present, schools lose their crucial role as a safe haven to learn, grow, thrive, and maintain a normal routine.

More and more countries are recognizing that something must be done. Seventy-five countries – constituting over one-third of UN member states – have now endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, an intergovernmental political agreement which contains concrete commitments to better protect students, teachers, and schools in wartime. Ukraine’s absence among the endorsers is especially noticeable, given the armed conflict’s devastating toll on Ukrainian children.

The UN Security Council’s Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict is on July 9.. What better platform for Ukraine to endorse the declaration than on one of the world's most influential stages? At last year’s Open Debate in October, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs said Ukraine “attaches great importance” to the Safe Schools Declaration and expressed Kyiv’s willingness to endorse it.

These words were encouraging, but more than seven months later, it’s time to put words into action.

Ukrainian children cannot wait any longer. In its report for May of this year alone, the UN included damages to six education facilities in eastern Ukraine. On July 9, Ukraine should make good on its commitment to protect the lives of children and their right to education and endorse the Safe Schools Declaration.