There are 11 English-Ukrainian schools in Manitoba, a language that many residents speak and rich traditions that many practice.
Roughly 40 per cent of the school population at R.F. Morrison identifies as Ukrainian. Many students and staff have immediate family in Ukraine, the country that’s currently under attack by Russia.
For nearly one week, Grade 3.4 teacher Hannya Bryl-Klimenko has had to balance the worry of her family in Ukraine with comforting her immersion students.
“I cried all the way to school,” Hannya Bryl-Klimenko said when she learned of the attack on Thursday.
When she arrived to school that day, the students were also emotional.
“There were some tears, and of course I was very emotional, too,” she says.
Some of her family was able to flee to Poland, however her two babas did not.
“They stayed put; they’re too old. They’re 80, 90 years old; they cannot travel.”
Her students share similar stories.
“The students were coming one day and showing the area where families their baba and gidos live,” she says. “And then, which way they’re moving towards Poland.”
Students Daniel and Addisen helped their teacher display a sign reading “Ukraine wants peace” on the front fence of the school Wednesday.
“Lots of my relatives are safe, they have been able to exit Ukraine,” says Grade 5 student Daniel Skwarchuk. “Sometimes I feel like I’m about to burst out crying.”
Addisen Wiebe is a Grade 6 student who says it’s difficult for her talk about.
“They’re just destroying the country,” says Wiebe. “When I heard that Russia was starting to bomb and destroy Ukraine, I was speechless.”
While the conversations are hard to have, teacher Bryl-Klimenko says they’re important.
“It’s very difficult to explain to children, that you pack your little suitcase and you leave your home,” she says.
R. F. Morrison’s vice-principal, Oksana Kosteckyj, says they’ve been offering coverage for teachers who need to step out of class or take a day off.
“We know that we have people struggling,” Kosteckyj says.
She says it’s important for teachers to not only teach students, but be a place of stability and comfort as well.
“Teachers do a fantastic job creating relationships with students and having those tough conversations so that they feel supported,” says Kosteckyj.
It’s those types of conversations that teacher Bryl-Klimenko says she tries to make relatable.
“How do we solve the conflicts? How do we start with little kids when they play on the playground?” says Bryl-Klimenko.
It’s a time when the future feels uncertain for both students and teachers, she says.
“They were asking questions like, why is it happening? And even as an adult, being born in Ukraine and living so many years in Canada, I have no answers.”
Instead, she says, she tries to remain strong for her students.
“I try not to show it to my kids because if they see the sadness, the tragedy of this, because it’s very personal to me…I just have no words.”
The school is holding a donation drive to send items to Ukraine. They’re collecting items until March 9, specifically looking for baby items.
The following items are being asked to be new, unopened and in original packaging:
- Baby food (no jars, only pouches)
- Baby wipes
- Baby formula
- Baby bottles
Items can be dropped off at R. F. Morrison school.