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British Education

Choosing to Stay and Continue Teaching in Ukraine

What makes internaional teachers choose to stay in Ukraine and continue providing lessons in person, despite extreme challenges? Mr Alex, our Primary teacher, shares his experience with Osvitoria, an online education-focused portal.

24th February… How will you describe this day? What are your memories? What did this day mean to you?  

History hinges on moments like we all experienced on 24th February here in Ukraine; the fall of The Berlin Wall, the attack on Pearl Harbour, the assassination of Franz-Ferdinand to name but a few examples. I truly believe that in the future, people will look back at this date as the defining moment in Ukrainian statehood. None of us really believed anything would happen, that it was all simply bluster by the President of the Russian Federation. How wrong we were all proven to be, sadly. 

Why did you choose to stay in Ukraine (Kyiv)? 

I worked very hard to secure a job employed at a prestigious school, and my initial decision to come to Kyiv was very easy. My first eighteen months here, I may say with all honesty, were some of the most satisfying personal and professional experiences of my life so far. I was so impressed with the people I met while here in Kyiv, so many cultured and intelligent people from all over Ukraine. When the war started, it felt like leaving would be something of a betrayal to all those people who had welcomed me to Ukraine. I understood by staying, in a small way, it would give some strength to those around me, and belief in the fact that Ukraine will ultimately prevail and emerge from this nightmare even stronger. 

Are you not scared? 

Only a fool would not be scared about what is happening here. I have heard several explosions from my flat in the city centre, strong enough to rattle the windows – I liken the feeling I experienced when this happened to like having a cold hand reach inside my chest and squeeze my heart – it’s very frightening!

I think the biggest anxiety for me day-to-day is the impact me being here in Ukraine is having on my family and friends. They see on the news every evening in the UK reports from cities like Bakhmut, where innocent civilians are being killed by Russian shelling and attacks, and they think this will happen to me. I text my mum every time there is an air alert, to let her know I am in the shelter and that I am safe. It’s the least I can do to assuage her anxiety. 

How did your family members and friends (living outside Ukraine) react to your decision to stay in Ukraine? 

My family were very upset. My mother cried, my father swore at me when I told them (I can count on one hand how many times this has happened!). With time, they have come to understand and respect my decision to be here. We had arranged for them to come to Kyiv to visit me, this was planned for May 2022. It obviously didn’t happen, but I am determined that they should come here and experience first-hand the courage, dignity, and resilience of the people of Ukraine, as well as the beauty of Kyiv itself! 

How does teaching go at BISU now? Can you describe your daily routine? 

There have been changes, and there are difficulties which I am still working to overcome. Disruption to lessons and having to de-camp to the school bomb shelter in the middle of a science lesson where we are doing little experiments, or having writing or reading sessions interrupted are frustrating because it is having an impact on the children’s attainment.

The main solace I take from my experience is that by being here I am offering continuity, emotional security, and stability to the children I am working with. I think that counts for a lot, and perhaps makes up for what we are missing academically. My little class have built up a great deal of trust and honesty between ourselves. We talk about how we feel and support each other. We try to keep everything as normal as possible for the little learners, but in the years to come they will remember these experiences and it will shape their psyche, their sense of threat and of danger. 

What challenges are you currently facing? 

The air-alerts and the power cuts which we experience frequently are frustrating and disrupt our learning, no doubt. I work with Year Two learners at BISU which in Ukraine is the start of the school journey but in the UK most children will have been at school for two years already by this point. A year of war, as well as the challenges of nearly two years of Covid-19; online learning, masks in the classroom, social distancing, have had an impact on the children’s social, emotional and academic growth. It requires a great deal of patience at times. I console myself that I do my best for the learners in the circumstances, and by offering them continuity and stability I am helping shape a better tomorrow for them and the whole of Ukraine. 

How did you endure the winter affected by power outages? 

Earlier in my career I worked for the UK-funded development charity VSO, and as part of this experience I spent three years working in rural Eritrea, a small country in east Africa. While there, I lived in a village unconnected to the electricity grid, no shops, no running water or plumbing and about two-and-a-half hours walk to the nearest real road. I thrived in these conditions, so I knew I would be fine in Ukraine over the winter. It’s not been without its challenges, but with the temperatures rising and the first signs of Spring in the air, there’s a feeling of optimism amongst my friends here in Kyiv that Ukraine is overcoming! 

How do BISU students go through these challenges? 

The students continue to amaze me with their strength and resilience. The little ones don’t really understand what is happening, they can talk about the war and that there is a threat to the country but they don’t really understand what it truly means. I talk to the older students, both in our Primary and our Secondary schools, who have a better grasp of the situation and there is a sense of optimism and determination that the threat to Ukraine will be defeated.  

How long have you been with BISU altogether? 

I have been employed at BISU in Kyiv since August 2020, I have worked as a Year 2 teacher all this time, based at our Pechersk Campus. 

The story has been published on Osvitoria 

Categories: British Education

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