On the one hill with mobile signal, Ukrainian kids build makeshift classroom

Mykola Dziuba and his two friends attend an online class in a makeshift classroom built by them from wooden poles and plastic sheeting on the only hill in the village that catches mobile internet, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in the village of Hontarivka, Kharkiv region, Ukraine January 13, 2023. REUTERS/Vitalii Hnidyi

HONTARIVKA, Ukraine (Reuters) - At the only place in their village where they could find a strong mobile internet signal - a windswept hill on the barren steppe - Ukrainian fifth-grader Mykola Dziuba and his friends have built makeshift tent to serve as a remote classroom.

"We sit here for around two or three hours, sometimes just for an hour," said Dziuba as the wind rattled the rickety structure. "When it got cold recently, it wasn't too great."

Dziuba's school in eastern Ukraine has been in distance-learning mode since the start of the new school year in September, a few weeks before the area was recaptured from Russian occupation during a Ukrainian counteroffensive. That prompted him and his friends to seek out their own spaces for learning.

He said they collected the materials - plastic sheeting, wooden poles, bricks and sand - from around their homes.

In the shadow of a water tower on a low hill they discovered the mobile coverage was good enough for a stable internet connection. The tattered tent they built soon attracted more of their classmates.

"Everyone was sitting there talking, the teacher was showing us things," Dziuba said. "We did a lot."

The students listen to lectures and send assignments back and forth to their teacher via messaging apps.

School director Liudmyla Myronenko said she had not expected her students to approach their remote studies so enthusiastically.

"I was really in awe of the children," she said. "They wanted to see us, they wanted to communicate with us somehow."

Russia invaded Ukraine 11 months ago, starting a conflict that has killed thousands and ravaged swathes of territory, especially in Ukraine's south and east.

Repeated Russian missile strikes on critical infrastructure since last October have also plunged large parts of the country into periodic power outages.

(Writing by Dan Peleschuk; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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