Solidarity with Ukraine: Education unionists from the United States and Poland meet with colleagues in Ukraine

published 21 October 2022 updated 2 November 2022

On October 11-12, 2022, a delegation of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and of the Polish education trade union ZNP visited Ukraine at the invitation of the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers of Ukraine (TUESWU). AFT President and Education International Executive Board Member Randi Weingarten headed the delegation. The event was hosted by the TUESWU Lviv Regional Organization.

The purpose of the visit was to collect in-depth information and insights into what the war has meant for education in Ukraine, to understand the impact of military aggression on the lives of teachers, children and the educational process in general. These insights will inform union work in solidarity with Ukraine, so that the support provided meets the needs of Ukrainian colleagues, students, and nation as a whole.

Ukrainian teachers: United and determined to continue education

A round table was held with the heads of TUESWU regional organisations at the Ivan Franko Lviv National University. Trade union colleagues discussed education during martial law, the work of teachers, and the challenges they currently face.

"Colleagues, we are here to witness the terrible consequences of the Russian war and the incredible resilience of the Ukrainian people."

Randy Weingarten | AFT President | Education International Executive Board Member

The heads of TUESWU regional organisations spoke about the state of education in their regions. The voices coming from the regions most affected by the invasion provided powerful accounts of the war and its toll on Ukraine, its students and educators. Tetyana Matveeva - Head of the TUESWU Chernihiv regional organisation, Nadiya Hryn - Head of the Zaporizhia regional organisation, Serhiy Borysenko - Deputy Head of the Kharkiv regional organization, and Valentina Borovik - Head of the Trade Union Committee of Sumy shared the experience on educators on the frontlines.

Educators’ solidarity and determination to continue their mission was abundantly clear. Maria Yatseyko - the Head of the Lviv regional organisation, Tetyana Povkhanych - the Head of the Zakarpattia regional organisation, and Anatoly Stetsenko - the Head of the Cherkasy regional organisation spoke about the incredible unity of educators across the country and their work in difficult conditions.

"It is important for us to show and tell you the truth about the life that Ukrainian educators live today. Despite everything, they keep the educational front. The armed forces of Ukraine liberate our lands from the occupiers, and the teachers continue to educate our children and take care of the future of the country," stressed the Head of the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers of Ukraine, Heorhii Trukhanov.

Internally displaced teachers: Unwavering hope to return to their classrooms

The delegation had a number of meetings during their stay in Ukraine. The most poignant were the conversations with internally displaced educators from Mariupol, Bakhmut, Kharkiv, Kherson, who now live in the trade union boarding house "Prolisok" and a dormitory of Drohobytsk State Pedagogical University. Educators shared their life stories with American and Polish colleagues. They told how they experienced those terrible times at the beginning of the war, how they ran from bullets, how they lost their homes, and about the care and support they receive from their union and colleagues.

"I am touched and inspired by Ukrainian teachers. I heard about their experiences, about their hope and most of all about their struggle. One teacher, when we were waiting in the shelter during the air raid, said that he wished that the sky above schools would be clear, and that school bells would ring again and call children to their classrooms... You are at the forefront of democracy and freedom. You work every day so that education continues and children learn. We will deliver your truth. We will not leave you and we will support you," AFT President Randy Weingarten stressed.

International trade union delegation in dialogue with local authorities

As part of the visit, the American-Polish-Ukrainian trade union delegation met Lviv Mayor Andrii Sadov. The mayor of the city spoke about the work to provide education in the city during the war and its importance.

Full-fledged cooperation between trade unions and social partners was discussed at the next meeting of the international delegation with the Director of the Department of Education and Science of the Lviv State Administration, Oleg Paska and the Head of the Commission for Education, Science and Innovation of the Lviv State Administration, Ivanna Gerus.

Leaders of the education sector told foreign guests about education in the region during the war and about the daily work to ensure education continues. "We have common goals with our department and deputies - our educators must be protected and receive everything provided for by law, even in the extremely difficult time of war," said the Head of the Lviv Regional Committee of the Trade Union, Maria Yatseyko.

The delegation also discussed plans to further develop links between Ukrainian, American, and Polish schools and establish full-fledged cooperation between educational institutions.

In addition, AFT President Randy Weingarten and Hryhoriy Osovoy, Head of the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine, spoke about the legal framework regulating the activities of trade unions in Ukraine, and the role of unions today.

Education International and its member organisations continue to stand with Ukaine and support colleagues and students affected by the Russian invasion.