As the world cеlebrates International Day of Education, we want to share how education looks amidst war. Teach For Ukraine wants to remind you about every homework made with candles or light from the city board, about every ruined classroom and every destroyed school, about every child who lost their childhood, and about Ukrainian teachers, who are no longer teachers, but parents, guardians, lifesavers, evacuators, doctors and more of all fighters.

Since the beginning of Russia’s large-scale war, at least 3045 educational institutions have suffered bombing and shelling, – and 424 have been obliterated. Education was put on hold for the first three months of the war and is still to be revived in most of the country. Children were trying their best to keep up with studies online, but with blackouts, even that got almost impossible. Today, we want to tell the first of 5 stories of brave Ukrainian teachers, Teach For Ukraine fellows. Because who, if not teachers, are helping provide stability for children amidst war?

Viktoriia Tymoshenko, 24 y.o, a Biology teacher

The morning of February 24 (from my diary)

There is only one word in my head: “confusion.” But for some reason, I’m not afraid at all. Yesterday, I was laughing and saying it was impossible; today, war is my reality. However, everything seems unrealistic. As if I am still asleep, and that call at 5:36 am is just a dream inspired by my experiences. Something must be done, but I don’t understand what. Looking for ways to leave. But where to go? To Melitopol, which is being shelled? Where is everyone fleeing from Kyiv? Where is it safe now? Intuition says that everything will be fine. I always trusted it, and now I have to believe it too. I’m afraid of losing myself. We must act.

How are teaching and school different now?

For me, this is a story in two acts. The first act is the return to the destroyed Borodyanka school in May 2022. The first time was difficult. I just couldn’t believe that this was the school where I worked. Everything looked like the scenery for a cheap horror movie. Broken windows, broken desks, scratched walls and boards with traces of shrapnel and knives. But the most painful thing was to see my office. I first noticed a door covering one of the broken windows. And then the cabinet itself. A broken chair is crushed by a half-collapsed ceiling. Bent flower stands. Test papers from the 11th grade are scattered on the floor.

My heart was bleeding because all the memories flashed by at once. There will be no more students, their questions, grades, and laughter. All around here is emptiness and pain—blood stains in the corridor and the acrid smell of burning. Then I returned several more times: to fill out journals and collect documents. However, this place was no longer associated with what it was before the war. It was just a destroyed and mutilated building.

Act two began with the new school year in September in a new school as a teacher. I was afraid at first because my role as a teacher had changed. Now, it is common for me to answer questions about the war in class. I have to place more emphasis on survival lessons under emergency conditions. Sometimes, I would skip a task with my students to overcome stress together. For example, I had to calm a student who learned about her father’s death in my class. I must choose words carefully to not trigger anxiety and fear among the children, and also plan several options for the lesson because you never know what will happen tomorrow. Will there be light, or will there be anxiety? But you can adapt to everything, and we have all done it because life and, most importantly, education must continue during the war. Students love going to school, even a remote one. They lack communication and a sense of childhood. And they are tired of being afraid and expecting the worst. Students want to be distracted and keep learning, and that’s my number one priority right now. Please bring them back to their childhood, and give them happy memories in this troubling time.

The best and the worst memory since the beginning of war 

The worst during this time was when my student said her father had died on the battlefield. At that moment, I was lost because you cannot be prepared for this. I just fell out of my life for a minute. She stood and watched as tears welled in her eyes, and the usual light on her face disappeared. I pulled myself together, asked to call a psychologist, and gave the student water. I didn’t know what I could do. All the words seemed meaningless at that moment. And then, I realized that the most challenging part of this academic year would be handling emotions. You cannot compare supporting the well-being of students during tough moments to teaching a subject. In the last year, I had to become more than just a subject teacher, learning how to be there for my students at their lowest.

It is challenging to choose one best memory, but the most pleasant thing was when all the students of the 7th grade brought educational projects to school, despite the shelling and the prolonged blackout. They prepared them by candlelight, using books, not having access to the  Internet. And after defending their projects in a classroom, they thanked me. After all, this task distracted them and gave them much-needed good emotions. After such moments, I know I am where I need to be.

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