Witnesses from War

Centropa is collecting emails, texts and videos from students and teachers in Ukraine, and we share them with you here.

When I ask my students on Zoom: “Who is your favorite hero?” they no longer answer “Batman” or “Naruto.” They pause, they think, and they talk about the “Ghost of Kyiv.” He is their superhero. They feel it is he who is protecting them during the horrors of this war.

Irina, 28 years old, elementary school teacher; family and city name withheld by Centropa

(note: The “Ghost of Kyiv” is the pilot of a highly secretive Ukrainian Air Force fighter jet that has brought down six Russian planes and then vanished after every kill. That is the story Ukrainian children tell themselves. And we’re sticking to it.)

TEXTS AND EMAILS FROM STUDENTS

Students in a Centropa school (undisclosed location) in March 2022

“We have 12 cats (including ours) and one dog. They always come to our bed to warm us up and to warm up themselves because we have no heat.When we were leaving, there was no time to take my glasses. So I am without them.I don’t go out, even though there is a possibility to walk around in the backyard. I feel sick from everything and cold. I can’t sleep. The news is constantly on.”

Name and location withheld. Dated 29 February

“More or less holding on. We worry for our family in Kherson.One friend of mine from Russia was at the rally today together with her family. Their town is small, so it was just their family and cops. That didn’t prevent them from detaining her mom. She had to teach the policemen at the police station how to file a case against her and she cracked jokes.”

Note from Anastasia, from a village in the Kyiv oblast. 16 years old. 9 March

“Hello, my name is Danya M., and I am 17 years old! Now there is a war going on in Ukraine, it is very scary! It’s scary to remember February 24, because in the morning at 6:00 Mom runs up to me in tears and says: ‘Danya, wake up, this is war! Our airport was shelled!’I quickly got up and began to collect all the necessary things! The news began to say that Kharkov was being shelled, and so on. Two days it was more or less quiet by us.On the third day, my mother and I went to help pack medicine for the front! And then we hear a siren, everyone in confusion began to descend into the bomb shelter!When we got home, we couldn’t relax. Every 2-3 hours we received messages:“‼️‼️‼️Warning! The emergency alarm is on, everyone must go to the shelter ‼️‼️‼️”We understood that the rest of the nights we would sleep dressed, and take turns on duty! God bless that this all will be over soon!GLORY TO UKRAINE 🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦”

Daniia, location withheld. 2 March

Three messages from 13-year-olds who attended one of our schools in the Kyiv oblast; they have fled to western Ukraine or are abroad.

Testphoto Ukraine CentropaTestphoto Ukraine CentropaTestphoto Ukraine Centropa

TEXTS AND EMAILS FROM TEACHERS

TEXTS AND EMAILS FROM TEACHERS

“Our village was under occupation for 25 days. Prior to that, columns of enemy armored vehicles plied through the village all the time.Therefore, the majority of people tried not to leave the houses. One of the villagers, a veterinarian who went to work by car, had a tragic accident: he ran into a convoy of armored vehicles, and his car together with him was destroyed. Residents of the village were warned not to even look out the windows when vehicles were moving, and their phones were confiscated. Therefore, during the occupation, assistance was provided mainly to those who live nearby, or relatives.When it was possible to go to the district center (which is a road through fields and unoccupied villages), we bought medicine, bread, and the most necessary food. For example, my husband and I then delivered bread to retired families. Maintaining morale, for example, by communicating with students in a group on Viber, helped to overcome stress.After the occupation, students resumed online learning. Teachers joined in collecting food for the soldiers at checkpoints, cleaning the village, knitting camouflage nets in the House of Culture, collecting things for the temporarily displaced and for children whose families cannot (due to various circumstances) buy clothes for their children.We transferred money for the needs of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Our colleague’s house from the neighboring village was destroyed from the bombing, and we organized a fundraiser. Because of the danger of missile strikes, the students at our school almost never leave their own homes, and we constantly warn them and their parents about this. Therefore, when we talk about helping others, we are not talking about students, but more about adults, including teachers.”

Unnamed teacher

“Hello!As always, on Fridays my wife bakes traditional Jewish bread, challah. It was the same on 25 February, the second day of the war.She had just put dough into the oven when under our window on the other side of the river in the center of [city name redacted] landed Russian troops! Ukrainian fighters welcomed them with fire. A fight broke out. It lasted for around an hour. All the enemies were destroyed…But the challahs were calmly baking and were very tasty.It’s just that we were so scared that we started eating only late at night,Glory to Ukraine!”

Vyacheslav, Mykolaiv region (The only Jewish teacher in our network)

“Hello, my name is Maria and I live in [name redacted]. Six days ago, I was still making the usual plans for the weekend: going to the library, meeting friends, but I had no idea that my life could change so much in just one night. On February 24, I woke up to powerful explosions in my city, but as it turned out, the trouble came not only to my village. In a few minutes, I learned that the aggressor’s country was attacking the entire territory of my native state from all sides: from the sky, on earth, and even from the borders of Belarus. Now, every time I hear the siren my family and I must run to the shelter. So far, the people of my city have not suffered much damage, but it is extremely painful to read the news every free minute and learn that the occupier is destroying entire cities, shelling them, attacking not only military infrastructure but also civilians. I want to cover my ears and never again hear the terrible numbers of innocent children, women, terminally ill people, the elderly, who die every day due to shelling and explosions. Fear creeps in when friends from other cities write that they can't go outside their homes and buy necessities because everyone who goes out is shot. I am extremely grateful to the Armed Forces, the Territorial Defense and other law enforcement agencies for the fact that my home is still intact, and I do not need to seek shelter.I am proud of the courage of ordinary people who, unarmed, detain the enemy, throwing themselves directly under their machines. I thank God for another day I lived. And I believe that, in the end, the hell created by one man crippling every minute the fate of millions of citizens of my home country, will end once. We will definitely win. Everything will be Ukraine!”

From Mariia, Volyn Oblast, 2 March

“For the first time in 28 years I am scared. It's getting harder to hold back tears. It seems that they, like the air, seep through all the cracks and swell on the lashes.I am not afraid for myself. I am afraid for children. Small, innocent people who are drawing tanks on their hands. And last year they were painting flowers, patterns, and symbols of pirates.A tank on the hand of a little girl with two tails and giant black eyes—a terrible thing that can neither be forgotten nor forgiven. And she looks 6-7 years old.It's frightening to talk to children. Too many topics can be traumatic. But they tell themselves about friends and loved ones who are at home. About beef and chicken that costs too much to afford now. That the shops are empty, that the school is destroyed. But we have to hold on. You can't show the children that you're in pain too. I am an adult and therefore strong. That is what I keep telling myself.”

Irina (asked us not to use city nor region)

“Many changes happen to a person during the war, especially when the war is close by. I felt it myself. You start listening to the sounds around you. You are scared of turning on the lights and keep on sitting in the dark most times. After the first shelling my family and I began to go to bed fully dressed so that we could get up faster during air raids and go to the improvised bomb shelter. We always keep a mobile phone with the Air Alarm program on.When there is no air alarm (sirens), it's great to go out and stroll through the city streets, go to the supermarket or just go buy bread from our factory, it helps to relieve a little anxiety, especially when the weather is good and the sun is shining. We have already started preparing a vegetable garden and planting potatoes, onions, pruning grapes, and you may notice that our neighbors are doing the same.But you know there are very sad feelings when you walk along the road (that passes through our neighborhood) in the direction of Odessa and see so many cars with the signs 'Children.' People leave the city and become temporarily displaced or refugees and this is yet another negative consequence of the war. People are forced to leave crowded cities, but ultimately life is the only thing that matters!Life goes on, and recently it was reported that the city of … received the highest recognition - 'The Hero City.' On March 28, online teaching has been resumed in …. I do really want to work, communicate with the children, see them all. But the biggest of my wishes is that this war comes to an end as soon as possible.We will definitely win because we are fighting and defending our own land, our Motherland. I want to walk the calm and sunny streets of my native [city]… and I believe that this will happen real soon …….GLORY TO UKRAINE!!WE WILL WIN……

Yevhen sent us three pages of a report from his city in the Mykoliev region. Here are the last few paragraphs: