Connecting in times of conflict: a story of resilience from Ukraine
Olena Naumenko, a teacher at Cherkasy First City Gymnasia in Ukraine, discovered Generation Global in 2017. She initially joined the programme to help her students practise English and improve their communication skills, but quickly discovered that it could also provide them with an opportunity to connect with global peers to build meaningful connections.
One year on from the start of the war, the Generation Global team spoke with Olena to discuss how her involvement in the programme has evolved.
Tell us about your experience with Generation Global?
Olena: At the beginning, the programme was just a great opportunity for my students to master their English-speaking skills and learn the basics of a dialogue with their peers. Then, in 2018, I was offered the position of lead teacher in my region. I continued to have video conferences with my students, but at the same time, I began popularising the programme in my region, forming a group of teachers and schools who booked video conferences on a regular basis and used programme materials in lessons and as after-school activities for clubs.
How has the conflict affected Ukrainian teachers and young people?
Olena: Since February 24, 2022, our lives have changed drastically; war broke out, and Russian troops arrived in our country to destroy us as a nation, to kill and demolish. Many teachers and students fled Ukraine and now they are living in different countries all over the world. I have always taught my students to be tolerant and understanding, as well as to respect people of different nationalities and countries. However, it became difficult to understand and explain to my students why a neighbouring country could come to conquer our land while violating all human rights.
Are the students and teachers from your network still participating in Generation Global?
Olena: Many students and teachers have remained involved with the programme. They have moved abroad, but they connect online. I keep them updated through a special Facebook page that I run. It is difficult to participate in video conferences because some students join them from abroad and others from home because we study remotely. We sometimes can’t participate because there are frequent air raid sirens, and we need to go to the shelter. The missiles destroyed some power plants in Ukraine, and there are constant blackouts in the region, making it difficult to prepare for and participate in video conferences.
What message do you have for teachers and students who stayed connected to the programme and the world even during these difficult times?
Olena: I am proud that the teachers did not give up and continued to participate in the programme despite the circumstances, demonstrating to their students that there is hope and that the majority of the world believes in human rights and supports our desire to be an independent nation with a rich history, culture, and traditions.
How does the programme help you as a global educator and what does it mean to you?
Olena: Personally, participation in the programme is crucial for me because when I am completely occupied working with students, it helps me not to think about the atrocities of war, and the encouragement and concern of my colleagues encourages and helps me to survive. Since 2019, I have been facilitating video conferences in Ukrainian and English for Generation Global. My family bought a special generator, allowing me to always have power and Wi-Fi at all times. I am proud of my students and colleagues who never give up and continue to believe in the values shared by Generation Global.