Ukraine keeping education alive

Courageous teachers both within and outside Ukraine are doing all they can to stay connected with their students and offer hope amid chaos, writes Katie Camarena.

The war in Ukraine is having a devastating impact on the country, its children and those who have fled to other countries.

There are now 5.8 million Ukrainian refugees while another 7 million are displaced within the war-torn country. UNICEF reports that about half of those who have fled are children.

Despite these overwhelming circumstances, teachers are doing whatever it takes to keep education alive no matter where their students are.

Underground but not out

The Vice President of the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers of Ukraine, Olha Chabaniuk, raised the impact of the war on the teaching profession at a meeting with international organisations. “Because many Ukrainian teachers are women, a significant part of the profession has fled to neighbouring countries,” she said. Many men have had to join the army to defend the country against the Russian invasion.

Yet whether they are in Ukraine or neighbouring countries, dedicated teachers are doing all they can to provide some sense of stability and hope for their students. With the education system upended by Russia’s war, lessons have resumed where possible though they continue to be interrupted by the wailing of air sirens.

In Kharkiv, a city in north-eastern Ukraine, teachers have established makeshift classrooms in the underground metro station. Trains are providing relative safety, having been transformed into homes for thousands of civilians sheltering from shelling on the streets above.

In the western Ukraine city of Lviv, teacher Yulia Kuryliuk meets some of her students in person a few times a week, and she reads to them via Zoom in the evenings. They tune in from Italy, Greece and Poland where they have sought refuge.

In Borodyanka, just 25 kilometres from the town of Bucha where Russian troops killed hundreds of civilians, Viktoria Tymoshenko taught students in a basement where they sheltered for a week without electricity.

She then helped some escape. One of her students described how they fled under shelling to a nearby village before moving further away to greater safety.

Tymonshenko says one school in Borodyanka was partially destroyed by Russian forces who had used it for a base. Classrooms were left ransacked and graffiti on the walls read “Russia, our beloved country!!!”

Support for refugee students

In May 2022, education unions joined with Ukraine authorities and international organisations for a policy dialogue on how to meet the needs of Ukrainian students and ensure access to education for all refugees.

“Education unions are working tirelessly with all stakeholders to ensure that every student displaced by the war in Ukraine has access to quality education while abroad, that every refugee teacher receives the support they need to navigate this crisis,” the General Secretary of Education International, David Edwards, said.

The First Deputy Minister for Education and Science of Ukraine, Andriy Vitrenko, said the Ukrainian government is supporting the education of refugees through online classes and developing books in Ukrainian.

Education unions are working tirelessly to ensure every student displaced by the war has access to quality education.

Experts agree that education can play a positive role for children affected by war, and teachers who have fled Ukraine say distance learning helps their students feela sense of connection, purpose,and routine.

The intergovernmental Safe Schools Declaration states that education can “alleviate the psychological impact of armed conflict by offering routine and stability”.

Help from other countries

Sharing a border with Ukraine, Poland has welcomed an enormous influx of refugees. But its school system is struggling to cope and there is an extreme teacher shortage.

In March, the head of the Polish Teachers’ Union (ZNP) Sławomir Broniarz, warned that up to 50,000 new teachers could be needed to cope with the influx as more than 85,000 Ukrainian students had registered at Polish schools.

“We are heading for an education tsunami,” he said. “Regardless of teacher shortages, the persisting issue of unattractiveness of the profession, lack of state support and heavy workloads, teachers are doing everything possible to support refugee students.”

In Ireland, Ukrainian teachers will be fast-tracked through registration to ensure schools are ready to meet the needs of refugees. The UK may follow suit with Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi saying his team is looking for ways to recognise the qualifications of Ukrainian teachers.

In Germany, the Ministry of General and Vocational Education said Germany is drawing on lessons learned from welcoming Syrian refugees. Measures put in place in 2015 are now helping accelerate the response to the current crisis.

Meeting with refugees in Romania, United States First Lady Dr Jill Biden said, “teachers are the glue that help these kids deal with their trauma and deal with the emotion and help give them a sense of normalcy”.

Anti-war oppression in Russia

Russians who speak out against the war face serious consequences. Harsh new laws have been introduced, with speaking out against the war punishable by up to 15 years in jail.

Thousands of anti-war protesters have already been detained and even school children have been arrested for placing flowers and ‘No war’ posters outside the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow.

Geography teacher Kamran Manafly lost his job after an Instagram post opposing the war. “I have my own opinion,” Manafly posted. “These views clearly do not coincide with the state’s opinion. I don’t want to be a mirror for state propaganda.”

Returning to school to collect his things, Manafly was barred from entering. He was called a “traitor to the motherland” and the principal of his school said she would “do everything in her power to have Kamran thrown in prison for 15 years”.

Amid concerns for his safety, he fled Russia, abandoning his beloved teaching profession.

Calling Australia home

Since 23 February, more than 3500 Ukrainian nationals have arrived in Australia. One student who is settling into school life in Sydney is 14-year-old Denis Oborskyi.

Denis fled Ukraine with his mother and siblings in late February. He now attends Xavier College in Sydney’s west.

IEU member and principal of Xavier College, Michael Pate, said Denis started at the school after his aunt contacted the parish priest seeking assistance. “Our Executive Directors made it clear that our doors are open to kids that have fled a war-torn environment,” Pate told the Sydney Morning Herald.

With the help of his teachers, classmates and a little Google Translate, Denis is settling well into his new school.

The people of Ukraine will bear the horrors of this conflict for many years to come. An end to the war is the only way to give them back even a fraction of what they have lost.


Ukraine: Education unions, national and local authorities, and international organisations mobilise to ensure access to education for all refugee students, Education International, 10 May 2022

War in Ukraine: Support for children and families, UNICEF, 12 May 2022

The 14-year-old Ukrainian boy who uses Google Translate for school, Sydney Morning Herald, 3 May 2022

The Ukrainians teaching in a war zone, The Guardian, 17 April 2022

Ukrainian teachers to be fast-tracked through registration system, Irish Times, 12 March 2022

DfE looking to fast track Ukrainian teachers, TES Magazine, 14 March 2022

War in Ukraine: Anti-war opinions can cost Russians their jobs, BBC News, 20 March 2022

The geography teacher who said no, Meduza, 22 March 2022

CNN on Twitter, 12 March 2022

Teachers in Ukraine are forging their own kinds of war effort, Today, 15 March 2022

Poland heading for education tsunami, Notes from Poland, 22 March 2022