New York's Ukrainian heritage schools preserve culture despite the country being in danger

One principal stated, "We are all here today to support our Ukrainian brothers," "The very fact that we are all here is a sign that we will not be broken."

New York's Ukrainian heritage schools preserve culture despite the country being in danger

The meeting was special because it held special weight when students from the Self-Reliance Saturday School for Ukrainian Studies, located in the heart New York City's Little Ukraine neighborhood, met Saturday to take weekly classes.

Students, teachers, and administrators attempted to deal with the chaos that followed Russia's invasion and reacted accordingly.

Principal Ivan Makar stated, "This week we're at war." He held a bell with blue and gold ribbons in the colors used by the Ukrainian flag. "So, it's for unity. It's so the children can see that something is happening today.



Part of the day was spent by teachers explaining the conflict to pre-K to 11th graders. Many were wearing traditional Ukrainian embroidered clothes, which consisted of a stream white shirts with bright geometric patterns, and flowers in reds, greens, and golds. Some were wearing embroidered masks from Ukraine.

"We are devastated as a community. Makar stated that we are not surprised at all because of our past. "We try and talk to our students about the current situation, try to deconstruct it."

One room was occupied by a kindergarten teacher who sat with the children on a blue rug. She pointed out Ukraine's capital, Kyiv on a globe map. The children had colored the Ukrainian flag and national trident symbol earlier, but their yellow and blue crayons didn't quite stay in the lines. They also learned the Ukrainian alphabet.

Teachers encouraged older children to talk about their emotions and included lessons on the history of Ukraine in other places.

Lev Ferencevych (11 years old) is in sixth grade at the school. He said that he knew it would prove difficult to attend school this week because people will be talking about their families, and that he has family in Ukraine.

He said, "It's so sad to hear all the stories my friends tell about their families being hurt or hiding."

Sofiia Zelena stated that she was thankful to have a space to express her feelings on the ongoing conflict.

"I am very grateful that we have this community, especially in these types of situations, because we have people to talk with, people to share feelings with. "We're all one family because we all come from the same heritage," Sofiia Zelena (16), a student in 11th grade at the school, said. "This is what connects us all: our culture, our homeland.

Ruslana Makar (15-year-old principal's daughter, and a student at the school), became emotional when she stated in a class Saturday that "now, everything's's really important to know our language, and our traditions."

Yulia Holiyat (11 years old) said that she was "devastated" and does not know what to tell other children.

She said, "All of us in this room have an enormous family from Ukraine," and broke down as another student reached out to comfort her.
"Little children at the park ask, "What's going on?" "Why is this happening?" I was like, "I don't know. I don't know what's coming to our country." She said.

Iryna Chuyan (principal of the School of Ukrainian Studies CYM) said that it was important for heritage schools during conflict.

"What can we do?" What can we do? All things must be under control. That is the main idea behind the school. She said, "Don't panic panic panic won't help you." "We try and calm them down because they sometimes fear for their families."

Makar, the principal, sought to reassure his students during a school assembly, which preceded a prayer at St. George's Ukrainian Catholic Church.

"We are all here today to support our Ukrainian brothers. He said that the fact that we are all here is a sign that we will not be broken. This is not a new event in our history. It has happened numerous times since the Russian aggressor."


"The simple fact that you're here at school, that you come on Saturdays for Ukrainian language and history classes, that you have a passion for your culture and religion, all of this shows the world that this is not going to happen. Makar stated that we will not disappear.

Sixth grade teacher at School of Ukrainian Studies CYM Lidiya Volosyanko said that she asked her students to create pictures with messages about their feelings and then presented on the history of Ukraine.

She wrote her message on the whiteboard in class: "No War."

Children wrote messages like "I love Ukraine." I believe in Ukraine. Volosyanko stated that he believes in Ukraine's victory.


"I want to just ask them, What do you feel? She said that it was very important for children. It was an emotional lesson, and it was very important for kids today. But we must do it because it is time.

Bogdan Gelevan, her son, also attended the school. Because you are surrounded by Ukrainians, it really helps.

He said, "We all need to be together as one Family."

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