Ukraine: How you can help

Staff Stories

Ukraine: ‘This has been the biggest challenge of my career’

David Cole, principal of the British International School Ukraine, remains optimistic about the future, despite the horrors of Russia's invasion

As told to Irena Barker

The article was published in Independent School Management 

When I was appointed to the British International School Ukraine (BISU) nearly five years ago, I reassured the owner, “Don’t worry I’ve experienced nearly everything, just maybe not all at once.”

I believed, probably quite reasonably, that my 20 years of headship in the UK and internationally, would stand me in good stead to help the school to reach its potential.

But when war struck in February, close behind a once-in-a-century pandemic, I realised my own arrogance.

Running the British International School Ukraine during the invasion has been the biggest challenge of my career. The stakes have felt incredibly high with both, but while we knew Covid would end eventually, the war feels even more uncertain and complex.

While we are very proud to be successfully running a full virtual curriculum for our pupils, around 40 per cent have taken up places elsewhere and it has been very difficult to see the team we have built up reduced by voluntary redundancy.

But alongside this sadness I remain incredibly optimistic for the school, proud of our staff team and grateful for the phenomenal level of support we have received from across the world.

I remain optimistic that the war will be won and BISU will play an important role in educating the outward looking Ukrainians who will help the country reach its potential.

But for now, how do you run a school in the middle of a war?

Like most people in Ukraine, we were as prepared as we could be. Although also like most people here, we never really believed Putin would invade, especially not in the way he did.

Some of our international teachers had already returned to their home countries in January, on the advice of their embassies, and they were teaching online as they had been during Covid. Others, including local staff, were teaching as normal on site.

We had also pre-written the email we had dubbed “the email we never want to send”. Which of course, on February 24, we had to send to parents, informing them the school would close temporarily.

Thanks to the systems we had built up through Covid, we were able to get an online school up and running within two working days, whilst also providing support to families and staff moving out of the country to seek safety.

Opening the virtual school was important for continuity and very symbolic as we were determined that learning and teaching would not be extinguished by the invasion.

It’s important to point out that, although I have been working hard to play my part, I am living in relative security. After a few days, I moved to a safer city, a few hours drive from the Romanian border and have been helping organise things from there ever since.

I had wanted to stay in Kyiv and hope to return in the next few weeks. But I was wary of becoming a burden on other people and felt I could make my best contribution from elsewhere.

Many local staff however decided to remain in Kyiv, working in the day and volunteering with the war effort. A number of colleagues and pupils have also joined the military and the courage of all of them is phenomenal.

The British International School Ukraine has now got pupils and staff in six continents, most of them are in Europe, many in Poland, some in the same city I’m in in Western Ukraine, some in Egypt and Turkey.

Amidst the uncertainty and challenges, we have been extremely grateful for the support we have received from the global community and the efforts of people to keep the Ukraine war at the top of the news agenda.

CenturyTech have been brilliant helping with our online curriculum, schools in the Black Sea Schools Group have been incredible, and we have had support from many UK schools including Ratcliffe College, King’s Worcester, Byron College, John Bunyan Primary and Osbaston Primary.

We are delighted that Cambridge Assessment and the IB have agreed to let our students have their qualifications teacher assessed this year.

MP Liz Saville-Roberts, Lord Sharpe of Epsom and Colin Bell at Cobis’s lobbying of government I believe helped lead directly to the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

But it has been the smaller gestures too that mean so much in terms of boosting the moral particularly of staff here.

Even when people do things as simple as sending us pictures of flags being flown, in shop windows, people wearing the ribbons, it helps the people of Ukraine see they have not been forgotten.

A number of people have asked, since the war started, whether it has been a frightening experience. Of course there has been fear but uncertainty is the biggest problem people are dealing with emotionally.

I have experienced a kind of guilt in the past weeks. I’ve got a British passport, I’m a few hours from the border and I only have to leave and I’ll be home in a few days. My wife and two grown up sons are safe living in Australia.

But for those who have left their entire lives in areas that are now occupied by Russia, I can’t even imagine what that must be like, the uncertainty. The consequences if Ukraine doesn’t win for those individuals must be a great fear for them.

But there’s a stoicism, they’re getting on with the job, they’re convinced they are going to win and everything up to now shows that if they are supported they will.

One thing I want the British International School Ukraine to provide amid all this is continuity. One day the war will be won and peace will return – children will need learning and teaching and it is important we will be there for them as we reopen in Kyiv and Dnipro.

I have the greatest admiration for our Chair and CEO. They have invested their own time and resources in supporting staff as they were evacuated and in providing much needed humanitarian aid.

Now they are committed to the goal of helping Ukraine rebuild by ensuring learning and teaching has continued and that there are schools for the students when they return home.

The invasion has done the opposite of what Putin wanted: it’s united the country, it’s stronger than I’ve ever seen it in five years. I sometimes laugh with my Ukrainian colleagues that I’m more optimistic than they are, and as a foreigner see the country’s potential better than they do.

I took this job on because I wanted to play my part in helping the next generation of Ukrainians develop a modern, international outlook to help this great country participate at a European and global level.

And I firmly believe that potential is still there and will be realised.

If, in the past, it had ever been an option, would I have chosen to be here at this time? Probably not. However, now, I would not want to be anywhere else.

Categories: Staff Stories

Popular articles

Day of Unity at BISU

On 22 January Ukrainians celebrate the Unity Day that dates back to 1919, when eastern and western Ukraine signed the Unification Treaty.

BISU students share stories of “light” with their peers worldwide

Students at The British International School, Ukraine (BISU) constantly participate in discussions with their fellow students worldwide that cover all sorts of topics, thanks to BISU’s extensive partnership with international organisations and schools.

Music Inspires Ukrainian Defenders

A BISU music teacher supports Ukrainian soldiers and raises their morale on the frontlines with various performances

BISU Continues COBIS Membership

Our membership category is COBIS Member (Compliance)

At the sad passing of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, BISU offers its deepest condolences to the Royal Family…

At the sad passing of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, The British International School Ukraine offers its deepest condolences to the Royal Family and people of the United Kingdom.

1 September: BISU Reopens its Doors

Congratulations on the beginning of the new academic year 2022-2023!

Congratulations from Nicolas Harrocks, Deputy Head of Mission & HM Consul, British Embassy, Kyiv

Dear Children, Staff, and Community of the British International School in Ukraine,

Ukrainian Story Book: BISU Launches a Unique Art Project

British International School Ukraine students share Ukrainian Culture with the World

How BISU is managing to support learning during the war

Recently, our partner Firefly talked to the BISU team to find out what the impact has been on our teachers, students and parents, and how the school is continuing to support them during the conflict.

New Academic Year 2022-2023

BISU has always been committed to re-open in Ukraine as soon as it is safe for students and staff

Together for Victory

Home front volunteers help Ukrain’es defenders and evacuues

Student Achievement Awards

Recently, COBIS invited British International schools to nominate up to three students for a Student Achievement Award this academic year.

Black Sea Schools Programming Competition

As a Black Sea School Group member school, our BISU students were rivalling each other at the Programming Competition, School Round.

CENTURY Spring Challenge 2022

CENTURY is a learning platform that uses Artificial Intelligence to select the best lessons for students to do next and helps inform teachers to make intelligent interventions.

World Maths Day 2022

23rd March 2022 is the date of this year’s World Maths Day. It runs for 48 hours to cover all global time zones.

BISU Marks its 25th Anniversary

Established in 1997, The British International School Ukraine (BISU) was the first to bring a British style of education to Ukraine and is widely accepted as one of the country’s most prestigious international schools.

Poem ‘Pray For Ukraine’

We would like to share this very moving poem for Ukraine written by Dmytro Kiva in Year 8.

School in Essex Sends Their Love to BISU

We received another letter of support from our international friends -- John Bunyan Primary School (Essex, the UK) shows their solidarity with BISU. 

BISU Virtual School

Despite today’s extraordinary challenges, BISU works hard to ensure uninterrupted support and quality education to our students. Offering the highest standard of learning and teaching has always been and remains our priority.

King’s Worcester Community Sends Their Love to BISU

The community at King's Worcester in the UK sends their heartfelt love and prayers to BISU at this time.


Being a British International School, BISU was set up in Ukraine 25 years ago and BISU continues to stand with Ukraine.

Council of British International Schools’ Poetry Competition

Pechersk students showcase their creative and literary talents in the international contest

Do you know how to train a dragon?

On Friday 11th February, Year 4 hosted a Learning Showcase for their peers at Pechersk

Mangahigh COBIS Maths Challenge 2022

Over 29,500 students from 146 schools across the world took part in this year's 2022 COBIS & Mangahigh Maths Challenge

Black Sea Schools Maths Cup

BISU took part in the international maths competition

Makerspace: BISU Launches a New Project

We are launching a new and exciting project at our Nivki school called Makerspace.

IELTS testing centre opens at BISU

Looking for a certified IELTS centre? Look no more: book your test at BISU Dnipro!

Soccer Match at Dnipro Campus

On 25th November, a traditional Soccer Match between teachers and students took place, organised by our Physical Education teacher Mr. Ivan.

BISU Students Visit the Animal Shelter

During our World Animal Day Celebration on 4th October, the Pechersk and Nivki schools collected money and food for "Happy Paw".

BISU Christmas Show 2021

We are inviting you to enjoy the BISU unparalleled concert

Dressing Up in Creative Ways

On 12th November, all BISU schools arranged the Pattern Day for our Early Years students.

Lest We Forget

On 11th November, BISU attended the commemoration ceremony hosted by Kyiv’s Glory Park to honour those who lost theirs lives in military conflicts

Creepy Friday at BISU

Trick or treat? Halloween is one of favorites amongst our students and staff.

World Mental Health Day

Last Friday, 8th October, the Pechersk and Nivki schools marked the World Mental Health Day.

Two Colours in Harmony

Recently, Mr David Cole, BISU Principal, attended the cultural event ‘Two Colours in Harmony” at the invitation of the Indonesian Embassy Kyiv.

Media and Society: Y7 End of Unit Project

What are the major problems facing our world today and how do we solve them?

We Celebrate the European Day of Languages

Established in 2001, it is a day to raise awareness of the importance of language learning and promote the rich linguistic and cultural diversity of Europe.

World Animal Day at BISU

On 4th October all our schools – Pechersk, Nivki and Dnipro – celebrated World Animal Day.

Happy Teacher’s Day

The importance of teachers can hardly be exaggerated. A guiding force, they change students’ lives every day. There is only one official day when we get together to appreciate their tremendous contribution.

‘Coins for Children’ Nationwide Charitable Initiative

Jointly with Ukraine's National Bank and Education Ministry, Tabletochki Charity Foundation is launching the nationwide charitable campaign to help cancer-stricken children.​

Welcome Kit 2021-2022

This year we have prepared a special gift for our children, something that will help them feel comfortable and easily connect or reconnect with the school, its faculty and peers.

Saturday Enrichment Programme Kicks Off

On 4th September, the first enrichment classes took place at Pechersk and Nivki and proved a success.

1 September: BISU Reopens its Doors

Congratulations on the beginning of the new academic year 2021-2022!

With Ukraine in the Heart, BISU Wins Silver

BISU students took part in MediaMAN-2021 Competition

BISU IBDP graduates show 100% pass rate

We are excited to announce the outstanding results of our 2021 International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) graduating class.

Programming Competition

At school, we live an eventful life

All-Ukrainian Game ‘Sunflower’

BISU excels in another national contest

Reception Class and Year 1 Learning Showcase

The youngest students of the Pechersk campus have been working hard this term and learnt a lot.

Make a Difference to the World Around Us

BISU Year 4 Student Parliament collaborates with the Red Cross

BISU Virtual Concert June 2021

BISU creates an amazing show to welcome summer


Online education

1 Dragomyrova Str., Kyiv

+38 (044) 596 18 28

+38 (050) 412 48 84

Pechersk Kindergarten

1 Dragomyrova Str., Kyiv

+38 (044) 596 18 28

+38 (050) 412 48 84

Pechersk Primary and Secondary School

1 Dragomyrova Str., Kyiv

+38 (044) 596 18 28

+38 (050) 412 48 84

Nivki Kindergarten

45 Tolbukhina Str., Kyiv

+38 (044) 239 21 21

+38 (066) 303 75 78

Nivki Primary and Secondary School

45 Tolbukhina Str., Kyiv

+38 (044) 502 39 09

+38 (050) 410 46 44

Dnipro Kindergarten

39a Antonovychа Str., Dnipro

+38 (056) 767 18 28

+38 (050) 458 80 22

Dnipro Primary and Secondary School

39a Antonovychа Str., Dnipro

+38 (056) 767 18 28

+38 (050) 458 80 22

External education

1 Dragomyrova Str., Kyiv

+38 (044) 596 18 28

+38 (050) 412 48 84

Цей Веб-сайт використовує файли кукі перших і третіх осіб для збереження інформації на вашому комп’ютері. Якщо ви залишаєтесь на сайті - ви підтверджуєте використання кукі.

Детальніше про кукі