As Russian troops prepared to invade Ukraine in February 2022, Kyiv International School moved to online instruction as a precaution. When the invasion took place two weeks later, a large majority of the 800 students—who come from all over the world—enrolled in other schools outside Ukraine, and staff members who were not Ukrainian remained outside the country in various locations. At the start of the school year, 100 students, as well as some staff, remained, most of them still living in Kyiv. Rachel Geary is the secondary director of instruction and an IB program coordinator at the school. She’s also the National Honor Society (NHS) adviser, and she has worked to keep the program going despite the immense challenges. She shares what that has been like this school year.
Since I took over as NHS adviser, we’ve just been meeting and trying to figure out what we can do since we are all online, and we have students all over the world. This summer, the government had given schools permission to reopen if they have a bomb shelter, which gives you a sense of what life is like in Kyiv. So, we started building a bomb shelter. Given the most recent attacks, the situation has become increasingly volatile. We will continue to operate online until we are allowed to reopen.
Obviously, that makes it complicated to run an NHS chapter. I wasn’t involved in the program last school year, but after the invasion, the students did a lot of fundraising for war relief. There was a lot they could help with in their neighborhoods and individually, and they were so focused on that. Many of the Ukrainian students are still doing individual volunteer work outside of NHS, but one of the things they’ve told me is that they can’t really ask their communities for any more money, so we have to do something else.
As of now, we are working to find something worthwhile and meaningful and real that we can do as a group. One thing I suggested to the kids is that maybe building our own community is one way we can help each other. They’re super focused on wanting to help Ukrainian refugees, and I get that. It’s a clear and obvious need for them. However, I have suggested that creating community is also vital.
I can’t speak highly enough about these kids’ resilience and grit. Our school is K–12, but most of the students are seniors. They didn’t want to enroll in a new school this year because their lives have already been so disrupted. The students we have now are committed to the school, and their families are committed to Kyiv and Ukraine.
Honestly, academics is the easiest part for them. The kids come to class virtually, they do the classwork, and they do their homework. That’s why I feel like creating community is so important because school is much more than just acquiring content.
The situation they are in is like during the peak of COVID, but worse. With COVID, people throughout the world could say, “We’re all in the same situation together.” But now these students must deal with war in their homeland. It feels so isolating for them, especially since so many of their classmates have moved to other schools.
Even though they won’t have prom or senior photos or all the other typical, fun senior activities, they don’t feel sorry for themselves. And they don’t talk about the turn their lives have taken. It’s heartbreaking, but inspiring, how these students find meaning and joy every day, despite their circumstances.