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An Anatomy of a Grad Attack: Quality Education

SDG 4 – Quality Education

4.1.1 – Number or proportion of education facilities damaged or destroyed by explosive weapons

Case Study

Official reports state that seven education facilities (three schools and four kindergartens) were impacted by the attack on the 24th January. Vostochny’s School No. 5, School No. 57 and School No. 68 were all damaged, with School No. 5 sustaining the worst damage – a rocket fell on the football pitch, another on the street in front of the main building and a third fell within the school’s inner courtyard. 

Three Grad rockets also hit School No. 57, destroying 65% of the windows and causing some structural damage to the building’s foundations. School No. 68 fared slightly better. Most windows were destroyed by blast waves, but as a rocket hit the elevated dome above the school’s sportshall, damage to the main building was less severe. 

Kindergartens No. 42, 47, 160 and 165 were also damaged. According to Metinvest Group, who were involved in parts of the repair operation, Kindergarten No. 160 sustained the worst damage. Footage from the aftermath of the attack also shows that the majority of Kindergarten No. 42’s windows were shattered after a rocket impacted within a few metres of the building.

School No. 5’s football pitch sustained a direct hit from a Grad rocket, Ivasykus (cc by-SA 4.0).


Examples of Grad attacks damaging schools are abundant – especially in Ukraine. Five of the twenty case studies into BM-21 Grad attacks explored in GICHD’s report ‘Characterisation of Explosive Weapons’ mentions damage to schools – four of which occurred in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and 2015.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) have also recorded several cases of Grad attacks damaging schools in Donetsk, and their 2016 report ‘Studying Under Fire’ detailed the complete destruction of Novosvitlivka school by Grad rockets in August 2014. More recently, HRW have reported an instance of a Grad attack, carried out by Azerbaijani forces, damaging a school in Nagorno-Karabakh.

In Libya, finding clear evidence of Grad systems damaging schools is more difficult. AOAV found evidence that following the siege of Sirte in 2011, at least seven primary schools and two secondary schools endured ‘medium to high damage’, whilst two other schools were completely destroyed. However, given the array of weaponry used in the siege, it is not possible to discern the specific impact of Grad MLRSs. 

Due to the difficulty of reporting amidst widespread explosive harm in Syria over the past decade, finding strong links between Grad attacks and damage to education facilities is complex. However, Amnesty International recorded a rocket attack on a school in Sheikh Idriss, east of Idlib city, in March 2019, which damaged the school and killed a 10-year-old boy. Given the distance over which rockets were fired, alongside the number involved in the attack, it seems highly likely that it was carried out by a Grad MLRS. However, this cannot be confirmed. 

4.1.2 – Number or proportion of educators killed or injured by explosive weapons, disaggregated by gender

Case Study

Although several rockets landed inside education facilities, the attack took place on a Saturday morning – outside of normal school hours – and the number of educators killed or injured was low.

At School No. 57 an extra-curricular sports class was taking place in the morning, and a physical education teacher and two students received minor shrapnel wounds. A rocket also hit the apartment of a teacher who worked at School No. 57. She sustained shrapnel wounds to her limbs, but survived thanks to the fast response of ambulance services. 

It is also worth mentioning the psychological injuries the attack inflicted on educators. The director of School No. 5 highlighted the scenes of hysteria when teachers met on the Monday following the attack, whilst the director of School No. 57 felt that all the teachers at her school had suffered some form of psychological trauma.

“On Monday when we gathered, the teachers were hysterical, especially amongst those who saw dead on the street. Just hysterical.” – Svetlana Oleksandrivna Kalsina, Director of School No. 5. 


Clear examples of educators being killed by Grad attacks are often hard to obtain. Insecurity Insight’s ‘Education in Danger’ project records global incidents in which educators are killed, but the data is not currently disaggregated to provide specific information on weapon types. Insecurity Insight has also provided monthly news briefs on attacks on education since November 2017. AOAV were unable to find any specific examples of Grad attacks killing or injuring educators in these briefs. 

4.2.1 – Number or proportion of education facilities with service disruptions, including Internet

Case Study

The attack did not cause serious, or sustained, disruption to electricity, internet and water facilities in the district, meaning schools were able to access these services for pedagogical purposes. However, structural damage sustained in the attack – especially by School No. 5 – meant these services were often irrelevant in facilities which required such extensive repairs. 


There is currently a lack of information linking Grad MLRSs with service disruptions to education facilities globally. It is likely that when Grad attacks disrupt the provision of key services, education will be adversely impacted. However, as Grads are typically used in wider conflict, this cannot be accurately measured.

4.2.2 – Number of schooling days lost

Case Study

The attack of the 24th January caused clear disruptions to schooling in Vostochny. School No. 5 – the facility worst hit by the attack – remained closed for a month whilst repairs took place. School No. 57 was able to complete repairs and re-open after 10 days, whilst damages to School No. 68 were fixed quickly, meaning there was no disruption to its service. 

Due to the fast and flexible response from schools in the district, loss to schooling days was not significant. It was arranged that Schools No. 68 and 69 would host pupils from the district’s other two schools whilst repairs took place. As a result, only two schooling days were lost for students at Schools No. 5 and 57. 

Today a tarmac rectangle covers the site where a rocket
hit the central courtyard of School No.5 (AOAV).


As was apparent following the attack on the Vostochny district, explosive damage to education facilities can lead to school disruptions. Elsewhere, however, there is currently insufficient information exploring the loss of schooling days when rockets have damaged schools. 

4.2.3 – Number or proportion of children without access to schooling, disaggregated by gender and age

Case Study

‘Parents were just afraid to let their kids go to school’ – Olena Volodymirivna Sychova, Deputy Director of School No. 69.

Due to the concerted efforts of local education authorities, most children in Vostochny continued to have access to schooling following the Grad strike. However, fear of repeat attack, and a climate of fear in the district, meant parents were often unwilling to let their children return to school, although facilities remained open.


The impact of explosive violence on education is well documented. In the four countries which have witnessed Grad MLRSs use in the past decade, it is clear that conflict has had a significant impact on children’s access to schooling. Despite this, there is currently a paucity of data highlighting the extent to which specific weapon types can limit access to schooling in these countries. Further research is required on the subject.


1 – Number, proportion or rate of students who drop out of schooling, disaggregated by gender

2 – Proportion of students achieving at least a minimum proficiency level in reading and mathematics, disaggregated by gender

3 – Proportion of population in a given age group achieving at least a fixed level of proficiency in functional (a) literacy and (b) numeracy skills, disaggregated by gender

Case Study

There is little evidence to suggest that there has been any change in school drop out rates in the Vostochny district, or Mariupol more widely, since the attack. What is clear, however, is that the events of the 24th January 2015, led to many parents moving their children to schools in other districts, other cities or abroad. In September 2014, School No. 5 had 1,100 pupils, by the end of the school year, there were only 450 children enrolled. Schools No. 57 and 68 also witnessed a loss of students between 40 and 50% over the same time period. Of the students who remained in the district, parents were often too afraid to send their children back to school in the weeks following the attack. 

The four school directors interviewed by AOAV felt they saw a fall in attainment amongst their remaining students after the Grad strike. This was the result of increased stress and anxiety affecting learning and exam results, as well as the disruption caused to schooling. Directors indicated that psychological impacts on children were particularly prevalent, but the severity of psychological conditions differed amongst students depending on their experience during the attack, as well as their age. Younger children and students who had lost parents in the attack found it the hardest to readjust to normal schooling. This is a key reminder of how the psychological impacts of explosive violence are rarely homogeneous. 

More recently, they highlighted improvements and a return to ‘normal’ attainment. Today, official statistics provided by Mariupol City Council’s Education Department do not highlight any large differences between the proficiency in numeracy and literacy between schools in the Vostochny district and elsewhere in Mariupol. This may suggest that psychological programmes run in schools, alongside the efforts of teachers, has prevented the attack having a long-term effect on educational attainment. 


Attributing third-level impacts to this weapon type is inherently difficult. For example, AOAV found evidence that following the siege of Misrata, in which the use of Grads was heavily documented, children were receiving far below the quality of education they had done prior to the siege due to disruptions and a lack of staff and amenities. However, the extent to which Grads can be held accountable is highly questionable, given the wide range of factors at play.

School in Novosvitlivka that was destroyed by Grad rocket attacks in August 2014, © 2015 by Yulia Gorbunova/Human Rights Watch

More in this series: An Anatomy of an Explosive Weapon Attack