In This City, Students Take Over on the Last Day of School

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Since Ukraine broke with the U.S.S.R. in 1991, Kiev’s aptly-named main plaza, Independence Square, has hosted rallies, demonstrations, and protests, like the landmark 2004 Orange Revolution. But one day every year, this capital city’s central hub holds a different observance of freedom: Hundreds of students flock to the plaza to mark the end of the school year by jumping into the fountain spray.

The traditional Last Bell ceremony, observed across Russia and some post-Soviet countries, takes place just after classes finish, but before the pressure of final exams. Often the smallest female student sits on the shoulders of the tallest graduate to literally ring a bell. Teachers give speeches of encouragement, while proud parents tear up over applause. Graduates may pursue college or tech school—or search for other options, their future as unclear as their country’s as it struggles to form an identity while stuck between Russia and Europe…

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