Time for sowing and harvesting: A teacher’s account of life in war-torn Ukraine

In October last year, Nataliia Yukliayevska, Director of Kharkiv Regional Centre for Vocational Education in Construction and Industry, was sharing her story of strength and resilience. One year has passed and Nataliia is back with new insights into teachers’ lives in time of war.

What does it mean to be a school director, a teacher in a country at war?

It is difficult to focus on ‘dry’ facts, since behind every action is an emotion that ranges from unrealistic confidence to complete despair. Behind every achievement is a human resource, not only physical but also mental. This year has taught us to take decisions and actions, to be focused and ready for change, to be specific, concise, not to stop, to believe, appreciate, support, seek and share positive emotions. So here we are. A year of war. Having survived the first stress of explosions, destruction, loss of loved ones, relatives, friends, students, my unbreakable team and I have joined our efforts in a powerful fist – putting all our skills and achievements, investing everything the Creator gave us, into living further and developing further, step by step.

Back in 2019, we had decided to transform our institution into an energy-efficient, energy-saving educational institution. This is the direction in which we felt would be our future. As school director I clearly understood that I had no moral right to be weak. Instead, I felt I should focus on developing our institution as a European-level institution with renewed vigour. Indeed, this year was a year of development for our school.

As a leader, I realised that this terrible time should be used for the professional development of each teacher of the team, in areas that had not been developed before. So, it’s been a year of self-education, a year of breakthrough for my teachers, a year that’s given strength to go beyond one’s limits. Each teacher has taken at least five professional development training courses and courses to explore new areas or activity.

‘A teacher for me is a person without age, a teacher is a state of mind.’

My teachers were able to withstand the challenge of time and master new technologies and teaching formats. A 100% of the teaching staff stayed with us throughout the 2022/23 academic year – 365 days and nights of war time. We’ve learned to perceive ourselves and our surroundings differently, realising even more that we are a team, and that the success of our centre depends on each of us.

What activities has your centre carried out over the past year?

The centre has continued to provide training, fully online in synchronous and asynchronous mode with elements of distance learning. We did our best to improve the quality of distance education, to make it more engaging and professionally interesting.

We have actively cooperated with international organisations and projects to train students and adults in partial qualifications/micro-credentials programmes.

  • Cooperation with GIZ project ‘Promotion of Energy Efficiency and EU-Directive on Energy Efficiency in Ukraine’: some 120 students and adults were trained in courses related to energy-efficient construction; 20 teachers completed professional development in these courses; 5 teachers completed the training-of-trainers programme to teach three GIZ newly developed courses (photovoltaics systems, heat pumps, maintaining engineering systems in buildings). All in all, 10 groups of students will receive training in courses related to energy-efficient construction.
  • Cooperation with the International Development Foundation supported by USAID project ‘Labour Potential Development for Ukraine’ to provide training in three professions and partial qualifications.
  • Cooperation with project ‘Support to Vocational Education for the Conflict-Affected Population in Kharkiv and Dnipro Regions’, as part of the Ukraine Economic Resilience Programme, to conduct training and skills development for vulnerable populations.

We have developed and updated training documentation and learning materials for vocational courses in 20 professions.

Teachers have organised extracurricular activities – online competitions and discussions, webinars – to keep students connected and engaged.

How are your students doing?

Our students are our love and pride. Many of our graduates are defending the country and speak with gratitude about the military skills they developed in our institution. Sincerity and openness in communication before the war has made it possible to stay in touch with students in these difficult times – through meetings, competitions, flash mobs. Our students have been engaged in volunteer activities. Many students have been employed in other countries.

Seeing the students’ eyes full of gratitude during the defence of their theses and diploma projects, hearing words of support and sincere appreciation is the result of our joint hard work. So, we keep going… to offer students a space for self-identification, self-realisation and creative development.

Where have you found the strength to keep going?

I have always been inspired by people. I have faith in them and what we do together. I have always believed in my educational family, my students, teachers and staff. Every day of this hard year, they gave me the strength to keep going. Together with the team, I learned new technologies and new skills. I decided that ‘now’ was the right time for something new. I started learning English, dancing and painting at night… which opened me up in a different way and gave me the strength to implement all my professional plans.

In any situation you need to look for something new, for personal development, as it gives you faith that you are alive and have a future.

‘We are alive! We are Ukrainians! We have not given up! We are going further and our faith is growing every day. We are getting stronger and our institution is becoming more powerful every day,’ Nataliia concludes.

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