“Thank you so much everybody for your support. Every word in your letters makes me smile. Because it is something special to feel that you are not alone and hear this not from politics or media but from you.” ~Veronica, a student at Zaporizhzhya Classical Lyceum
Today Ukraine entered the hearts of some very excited American students! It was a simple exchange — just a few pieces of paper sent in the mail — but it feels more powerful than any connecting we’ve done online. When the students looked at the photographs, letters, and artwork from their peers in Ukraine, the excitement in the room was palpable.
We’ve discussed the crisis in Ukraine in class, and last quarter students wrote cards of support, which we sent to the Zaporizhzhya Classical Lyceum, where two years ago at this time I had just finished up my amazing exploration with the Teachers for Global Classrooms Fellowship. I was only in Ukraine for two weeks, but it captivated my heart in so many ways. Even though people on the street don’t offer smiles too freely, Ukrainians proved to be infinitely welcoming, kind, and resilient people. At that time, Ukraine wasn’t a country that people in the United States knew much about; today, it is in the international news every day.
Students understand that more than anything else, we need keep sending some love to Ukraine. This week, Ukraine is dealing with pro-Russian activists rebelling and Russian troops coming into the eastern part of the country, after taking over the beautiful region of Crimea earlier this year. The map below shows the areas of tension — in red, you’ll see the areas where Russians have entered: Crimea circled and arrows pointing to the areas where there has been conflict most recently. In purple, you’ll see the two cities where I visited with amazing educational leaders during my stay: Kiev, the capital, and Zaporizhzhya, where I visited my amazing partner teacher, Lydia, and the wonderful students and staff at Zaporizhzhya Classical Lyceum.
Reading the words of the Ukrainian students today, we were struck by their pride in their country.
“I want you to know some facts about Ukrainians that differ us from Russians, cause as far as I know almost the whole world didn’t distinguish these two nations. In recent developments all of us became unite and Ukraine, as a country, has an enormous protection — its people. Because there’s no place in the world where live people with such strong spirit and love of freedom.” -Mary, grade 11
“We want to live in peace at our planet! I want to stress once more. I live in Ukraine. And I’m Ukrainian. And love my country. I don’t want any one to help us to struggle with our problems. We want to cope with them ourselves.” – Stas, age 12
“For the start, I want to explain you that our country is economically developed and has a rich infrastructure. The problem is that our country can’t get into “good hands.” So don’t think that Ukraine is a backward country. As for culture and traditions, I can say for sure, that they are very rich.” -Valentin
“Every country of the world has its own media, which unfortunately does not always show us the truth… Ukraine is not a part of Russia. It is an independent, strong country with the most friendly, easy going and peace loving people, with its own traditions and beautiful language. We want to be sure in the future, we want to see a smart man as a president.” – Arina
Some students also expressed fear and concern, even though not too much of the conflict has been in Zaporizhzhya:
“My life hasn’t seriously changed, but I can’t say the same about the thousands of refugees from Crimea. There is a partial mobilization to the troops, the prices grow every day, everyone is thinking about the war and everyone is afraid of becoming part of Russia. There is the growth of patriotism among the lion’s share of Ukrainians (and me as well :)).” – Dasha, grade 11
“I feel sad and even scared a bit, because there is just nothing I can do but wait for the good times to come. I live in Zaporozhye, it’s a town on the southeast part of Ukraine. As you might know, the east part of Ukraine supports Russia and those waves of riots might affect even our town. But I hope that won’t happen here. God, I hope it won’t.” – Fedir, age 16
It was also interesting to hear what they thought of America. Some talked about stereotypes, both positive and negative, of the United States. For example, one boy wrote that some Ukrainians think Americans are fat and eat lots of fast food. Others had really fascinating, funny, or sweet reflections:
“You asked me about stereotypes of Americans. Well, we think that the US is a great country of democracy. Moreover after the release of films about Captain American all of us believe that you are like Steve Rogers.” -Olga, grade 10
“I wanna tell you big thanks for your support. It’s very important for us. You can’t imagine like it’s pleasant to read your letters, because I’m a patriot and I like when people in other countries support Ukrainians, because in peace and against the war. Especially, if that people from one of my favorite country — USA.” – Taya, age 14
The best treat was seeing their artwork. As I wrote a few weeks ago, our students are working with OneWorld Classrooms to exchange art with students around the world, but we also sent a bunch of our art off to Ukraine, along with the cards and letters from students in several different classes at Innovation Academy. Below is just a taste of the amazing talent that we received today:
Want to see more? Here’s the American students and their artwork. Click each name to see their photo and description open in Google Docs.
~ Jared ~ Delaney ~ Lily ~ Madison ~ Emily C ~ Charlie ~ Zach ~ Davidson ~ Leah ~ Connor ~ Taylor ~ Therese ~ Aidan ~ Shayla ~ Jidelys ~ Finnbar ~ Alex ~ Khanh ~ Sam ~ Hannah ~ Craig ~ Andrew ~ Owen ~ Sonakshi ~ Travis ~ Malcolm ~ Alyssa ~ Adhiti ~ Mia ~ Tommy ~ Owen ~ Cameron ~ Emma ~ Heather ~ Mea ~ Grace ~ Michael ~ Emily ~ Erin ~ Aedan ~ Cassie ~ Marc ~ Annie ~ Colin ~ Ben ~ Logan ~ Mariana ~ Jonathan ~ Alexis ~ Matthew ~ Liam ~ Jordan ~ Jordan ~ Tess ~ Kaleigh ~ Julia ~ Diego ~ Anita ~ Adam ~ Ellie ~ Eli ~ Jessica ~ Parker ~ Connor ~ Daniel ~ Owen ~ Matt ~ Drew ~ Rhiannon ~ Athena ~ Sam ~ Jaden ~ Matt ~ Georgia ~ Rena ~ Sophia ~ Manny ~ Savannah ~ Ashlyn ~ Josh ~ Astrid ~ Mia ~ Sean ~ Declan ~ Jason ~ Sam ~ Josh ~ Hudson ~ Liv ~ Jarred ~ Gachau ~ Adam ~ Jack ~ Ellie ~ Sarah ~ Patrick ~ Dante ~ Isabela ~ Lauren ~ Dalena ~ Teshi ~ Pyper
When I sent off the letters and art pieces made by our students for students in Ukraine, I had to fill out a customs form at the post office. The attendant asked me the value of the package, and since it was just papers, he wrote $0 on the form. After getting our gift in the mail today, I have to say — these letters and artwork are worth their weight in gold.
A big Thank you to the students and teachers at Zaporizhzhya Classical Lyceum, with extra special hugs to Lydia, Yulia, and Lyudmila, the English teachers who helped make this exchange possible.