I am part of a generation that was fortunate to grow up without experiencing war first-hand. Our understanding of military conflicts came solely from books, films, documentaries, history lessons, and the poignant accounts passed down by our grandparents.
We used to naively believe that we might be spared from such a dreadful fate … until that late February morning when we awoke to the ominous thunder of war on our doorstep. Everything changed in an instant.
First things first
Certainly, the senior leadership team of the British International School Ukraine (BISU) had made some prior arrangements. In January, a few of our international educators had heeded the advice of their embassies and returned to their home countries, transitioning to online teaching, while others, including local staff, carried on with their regular on-site duties.
Yet nobody can truly be prepared for war, and that was the first lesson I learnt immediately. The best we could do was to respond swiftly, support one another and, above all, remain calm. It brought to mind my late father’s words; a civil pilot, he always said: “It is panic that kills first”. We sprang into action and sent out an email to parents, students and staff, notifying them about temporary closure of the school.
Human life, above all
In the early stages of the invasion, we took decisive measures to assist both BISU and the wider community. The board prioritised evacuating people, amid damaged roads and city attacks. Ensuring the safety of BISU staff and their families was our main focus. We also opened our school facilities to provide crucial aid, such as food and shelter, to those in need. Some of our colleagues and alumni bravely joined the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and we made sure they had the necessary safety gear and IT equipment.
“Losing contact with one of our teachers caused great concern.”
Within a span of two weeks, we found ourselves scattered across the world. Each day, we asked one another, “Where are you? Are you safe?”. Losing contact with one of our teachers caused great concern, and our relief was immense when we eventually located her.
The British International School Ukraine didn’t back down; instead, we forged ahead with the development of our school. Leveraging the systems we built during Covid, within just two days we merged all three campuses in Kyiv and Dnipro into a unified virtual school. We rescheduled lessons by utilising available and secure teachers.
Thanks to tremendous support of our global partners, our students experienced uninterrupted education. Not stopping there, our primary and secondary curriculum received a significant boost through valuable collaboration with renowned institutions.
As a result, we successfully wrapped up the 2021-2022 academic year. The BISU community came together online and celebrated the accomplishments of our IB Diploma and Ukrainian certificate graduates. Though the first four months of the dreadful conflict were now in the past, what lay ahead was uncertain.
Dark and cold winter
With the substantial drop in student enrolment, the school board faced one of the toughest decisions they had ever encountered. However, on 1 September 2022 our two schools in Kyiv and Dnipro courageously resumed in-person operations, while the third campus remained closed. To make it happen, we transformed our basement facilities into secure air alert shelters, fully equipped with essential amenities, including wifi and cots for the youngest students.
“One of the most challenging tasks was finding a generator to cope with the winter season.”
In adherence with wartime policies, our children and teachers display self-discipline and bravery whenever they hear air raid warnings. They promptly move to the shelter to continue their lessons in safety. It has become a part of their “normal” routine now.
Since mid-October 2022, Ukraine’s infrastructure has been under relentless attack with massive missile and drone strikes. During that period, Ukrainians had to endure plenty of hardships, with no electricity, internet connection, or heating. One of the most challenging tasks was acquiring a generator to cope with the winter season. Still, we managed to overcome these obstacles.
Teaching in a warzone
Of course, studies at our school have undergone changes to adapt to the current situation. At BISU, we offer a bilingual programme, blending the strengths of the British and Ukrainian educational systems. Our Ukrainian teachers work on-site, focusing on the local curriculum, while our international teachers handle British curriculum lessons online. This setup gives our students the option to choose between remote or in-person studies, depending on their individual situations.
Our online school remains efficient, with ongoing partnerships with esteemed international schools and technology corporations like Oxford Education Online, King’s InterHigh, White Rose Maths, Century AI, Firefly and many more. Thus, our children gain access to top-notch learning platforms and a diverse range of subjects that uphold BISU’s commitment to high-quality education.
Beyond that, we keep our students connected with the wider world. They actively participate in impactful charity and social initiatives, collaborating with organisations like Global School Alliance, Future Foundations, Global Social Leaders, COBIS, Brundibár Arts Festival, and many others.
These projects foster cross-cultural communication and unity, instilling in our students a sense of global citizenship and reducing feelings of isolation.
Emerge even stronger
A key challenge we face is fulfilling the demand for more on-site British curriculum academic staff. Due to the prolonged period of online teaching during and since the Covid 19 pandemic, the need for “physical” teachers in schools has become crucial to uphold the quality of learning.
Currently, we have a few international educators who are physically present in Ukraine, teaching our students in classrooms. One of them is our Year 2 teacher, who has been with BISU since September 2020. He says: “By staying, I hope to provide some strength to those around me and instil belief that Ukraine will eventually overcome this nightmare and emerge even stronger.”
“The need for ‘physical’ teachers in schools has become crucial.”
So, we wholeheartedly welcome those brave international academic staff who are ready to join us in Ukraine in these turbulent times. It will also be beneficial if retired international educators agree to remotely share their invaluable experiences with our students and teachers.
As we gear up for the next academic year, we recognise the need for additional global support to fulfil our mission. First, we need to strengthen our team and fill some important roles: SENCO, EAL Coordinator, and Head of AI. We also aim to help Ukrainian educators obtain international curriculum certification. Our main focus is to seek partnerships with sister schools to create a new progressive educational model for Ukraine.
Pledge to Ukraine. Pledge to all of humanity
BISU recently marked its 26th anniversary, maintaining an unbroken presence in Ukraine throughout the years, even during the invasion. Our commitment goes beyond education; we strive to provide children with a sense of stability and normalcy amidst chaos and uncertainty.
Our students represent the future leaders who will rebuild and uplift the country. Equipping them with resilience, faith, and a lifelong dedication to learning is essential for Ukraine’s success and the triumph of human values all over the world.
Anna Azarova is Communications Lead at The British International School, Ukraine. She moved to the UK in April 2022, under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Email: email@example.com
This article first appeared in the autumn edition of International School Magazine, available here.