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For one American high school, the war in Ukraine is personal

schools discuss war in ukraine.jpeg
Posted at 12:49 PM, Mar 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 11:46:02-04

NEW YORK — A class with high school social studies teacher Elizabeth Donovan is as much about a lesson, as it is real life.

“It’s so important for the kids to understand what’s going on and they’re also very passionate about it they also have family in Ukraine," she says.

The New Yorker grew up in a Ukrainian family, recently she learned some of her relatives safely escaped Ukraine.

“I have family that just escaped out of Kyiv," she says.

Other members of her family decided to stay.

“My uncle, who is 78, decided to stay which is, you know horrible, but, every Ukrainian I speak to says "I understand him," Donovan says, "I’m trying to understand him, but he’s 78 he won’t leave his home.

In the New York City high school where Donovan teaches, Saint George Academy, the stress of family in the face of war is now common.

40% of this small Catholic high school is made up of students who are Ukrainian or of Ukrainian descent.

"I remember waking up in the morning to my mom shaking and crying and telling me to pack my bags and that we had to leave immediately because Ukraine was being invaded," Marta Slava says.

The 9th grader escaped by train from Ukraine just days ago.

“Ukraine is all I’ve ever known," Slava says.

Slava is one of four students now enrolled at Saint George who left the country since the Russian invasion started.

“I feel so bad for classmates and friends who did not have an opportunity like me to leave Ukraine," she says.

Slava is living with her grandmother, as her mom is still in Europe, her father is still in Ukraine, and she is still waiting to hear from her older sister.

“She has three young children, she also tried to get out, but it was no use. I don’t know where she is right now. I haven’t got any information from her. I don’t know if she, I don’t know if she got out, I don’t know where the kids are," Slava says.

"Youth is beautiful, and this kind of stress gives our youth their first wrinkle," says St. George Principal Andrew Stasiw."

Stasiw leads this school where the Ukrainian language and culture are part of the curriculum.

The school first opened in the 1940s and once had around 900 students. Today enrollment is about 80 students. He says since the start of the Russian invasion the school counselor has been helping students deal with the reality of war.

“The mornings are the toughest because you’re waiting to hear," Stasiw says, "They’re seven hours ahead of us. So, when we wake up at 7 o’clock in the morning, it’s like two o’clock or three o’clock in Ukraine you already know who survived the night.”

Stasiw is a native of Detroit but has family still in Ukraine. The worry of their safety is the stress he has to live with.

Maksym Kosar feels it too.

“I was really worried because I spent all my life with him," the 16-year old student says.

Kosar said goodbye to his father, and grandparents at the Polish border as the war began to come to the U.S. to live with his mom.

He messages with his dad multiple times a day, who he says often has to hide in a bomb shelter beneath their home.

“When I see the siren starts, I chat him if he’s ok because he goes to the underground in our home just to be safe," Kosar says.

For as unique for a school to be so closely tied to a war so geographically far away, the hope is what comes from these classrooms, is a message the entire world can believe in.

“I want to them to understand how senseless this war is, "Donovan says, "I want them to understand that history, we can learn from history and our mistakes, and they really are the future, and the things they do, and the people they elect, and the choices that they make can make a world of difference.”