Supporting Ukraine and Ukrainian Children in Our Classrooms by Diane Baima
I have been following the Nerdy Book club since 2014 when I first read Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer. That book helped me define my philosophy of teaching reading, and has brought so many wonderful books to me and my students.
I am an American and teach at an international school in Ukraine. I did not leave the country on February 24, 2022 as most foreigners did. I stayed with my students and my Ukrainian family and hoped for the best. Luckily, Russian soldiers did not make it to the village outside Kyiv where we live. We know that we are very lucky, as many of my Ukrainian teacher friends lost their homes, or had extreme damage to them. Some have also lost family and friends.
I started this post before the school year started in September. At that time, most teachers begin thinking about how to set up the class, creating lesson plans, and preparing for the early morning wake up five days a week. I am a teacher in Ukraine, so I had even more to think about. Would the school be able to open? Would they get the bomb shelter built in time? Would we need to use the bomb shelter? Which students would come back to Ukraine after fleeing the country at the end of February, 2022? Had any of them lost a loved one to the war? How could I help my students, and help Ukraine?
As I was exploring this unique situation, I thought about how the book-loving teacher community could help Ukraine, and help develop an understanding of what war feels like for students. I hope you will consider doing book talks about Ukraine and the theme of war with your class this year. If you have a refugee who has had to flee their country due to war, or other dangers, remember that these children need to feel safe and welcome most of all.
My favorite author who writes historical fiction for middle grades about Ukraine (and other countries) is Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. She has written six books about Ukrainian children living through World War II: Making Bombs for Hitler; Stolen Girl; Don’t Tell the Nazis; The War Below; Trapped in Hitler’s Web; Traitors Among Us. These books have connecting characters and portray the atrocities committed in Ukraine by both Nazis and Soviets during the war.
Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch’s newest historical fiction book is called Winterkill. It is about the famine-genocide (called Holodomor) carried out by the Soviet state in Ukraine in the 1930’s in order to kill the Ukrainian people and their culture. Together, these books help answer why Ukraine wants to be part of Europe, and will defend its independence from Russia.
On October 25, a new middle grade diary memoir was published by a 12 year old girl from Kharkiv and her first two months of the war. It is called You Don’t Know What War Is by Yeva Skalietska. Yeva tells about how her and her grandmother wake up to find russia bombing her city and neighborhood, and how they make their escape to safety with the help of friends and volunteers.
A current informational book about Ukraine is Blue Skies and Golden Fields: Celebrating Ukraine by Oksana Lushchevska. It was published in August, 2022 and all proceeds for the book go to Ukrainian relief organizations. It has beautiful photos, recipes and facts about Ukraine. If you have a refugee Ukrainian in your classroom, this book would brighten their day!
Now it is January and I can answer many of my worried questions from the beginning of the year. The school opened. The bomb shelter was built, and we have had to spend many hours there every week. We had to revert to online schooling during weeks when the Kyiv region was peppered by exploding drones. It is stressful, but my students are resilient. We still have more cold, dark winter ahead, and often have electricity for only two hours out of every eight. But we will keep teaching and learning together for as much of the time as we can.
I am writing this post because the story of Ukraine is the story of defiance and courage under tyranny, and these books exemplify that fight. Please share them with your classes and support Ukraine and its children.
Diane Baima has been teaching for over 25 years in Ukraine; Armenia; Milwaukee, USA; Russia; and South Korea. Currently she is teaching English, math and science to grades 1 and 2 at a small international school outside of Kyiv. Her favorite part of the day is read-aloud time. She is married to a courageous and kind Ukrainian named Yurii and lives with him on their hobby farm with his mom, two cats, three dogs, two sheep, two rams, two goats and one beehive. They also have over a hundred fruit trees and berry bushes. She dreams of one day writing a middle grade book about Holodomor in Ukraine.
Powerful post. Thanks, Diane. I’ll be reading Winterkill.
Thank you for sharing your story. I don’t teach, but I will definitely share this post with those who do. Thank you for your courage.