Many of her students may now be scattered across Europe after fleeing war, but that hasn’t stopped Alina Khatsko from making sure they do their history homework – from her hotel room at Mullingar.
The online technology used by teachers and students around the world during the pandemic has once again become vital in helping Ukrainian teachers like Alina stay in touch with their students.
Originally from the Donetsk region, secondary school teacher Alina arrived in Ireland earlier this month with her sister and nine-year-old niece after a busy 23-hour train journey from her home region to Lviv in the western Ukraine before crossing the border with Poland. After a short stay in Austria, they went to Ireland because Alina has a school friend who lives in Longford.
Understandably worried about her mother, father and husband Bohdan, who remain in Donetsk in a part of the province that was not occupied by Russia in 2014 and to this day remains safe from fighting, Alina says happy to be in Mullingar and is grateful for the warm welcome she and her loved ones have received.
When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, schools were closed for two weeks before distance learning resumed.
Speaking to the Westmeath Examiner through interpreter Viktoriia Hurska, she said that although a small number of her pupils remain in Donetsk, the majority now live across Europe – and one child connects to Google Classroom to take lessons from Argentina. In addition to the students at her school, she also teaches a small number of students from other parts of Ukraine who are now refugees in other European countries.
When asked how the events of the past three months have affected her students, Alina says she is continually impressed by their resilience.
“A boy was evacuated from Mariupol not long ago. She’s not happy, but he’s strong. Most of my students are so strong, stronger than us adults. They support us adults, not the other way around. Ukrainian students are very strong.
As for Alina, she tries to focus on “positive thoughts”, which is not always easy. Currently staying at the Newbury Hotel, which she describes as “brilliant”, she hopes to return to Donetsk as soon as possible and reunite with her husband and parents.
“I want to go back and join them, but I feel so welcome here. The Irish are the best. In my thoughts, I am at home here.