Armed Conflict, Resiliency, and EFL: Training Displaced Teachers in Ukraine

Posted by: Crystal Bock Thiessen, English Language Specialist at U.S. Department of State

Читати українською

CBT_7657“Before the war…we wished health and peaceful sky only because it was a tradition and a habit…after spending hours under attacks, listening to shots, you give more sense and meaning to those words.”

“…we went to work, did our routine and pretended that everything was normal as we could do nothing in front of guns.”

“It will never be the same again.”

The words from the shared journals of internally displaced English teachers in Ukraine help tell the story of our experiences this summer in Kharkiv. For six days, my colleague, Eve Smith, and I held back-to-back teacher-training sessions geared towards immersing novice teachers of English in current methodologies and creative approaches to the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classroom.

19310806459_50947d4815_oIn terms of education, the fighting has tragically resulted in the death of teachers, staff, and students.  For survivors in the educational system, the conflict has brought about new challenges in dealing with the resulting effects of stress and trauma while trying to create a safe environment where learning can continue to take place.  Many schools and universities have had to relocate to other towns and regions, and now somehow must strive to maintain their academic integrity despite new surroundings, disconnected buildings, makeshift classrooms and a reduction in staff and students.

“I left my job, my family, my hometown—everything.”

“I work and pretend that everything is ok. But it’s not true.”

“…I feel a bit lost and confused about my future, especially taking into consideration [the] situation in our country.”

Starting with a pre-training questionnaire for the participants, we poured ourselves into ideas and information that we could use to make this training the most beneficial for those who would be coming to us.  Many of these young instructors had concerns about how to be sensitive to the effects of trauma while promoting the relevance and importance of learning English to students whose lives have been greatly affected by the fighting.  A lot of them were also dealing with great sadness, loss, anxiety, physical displacement and high levels of stress as a result of their own experiences.

“It’s been a year of challenges, sad losses, and getting new perspectives on life…”

“I had fears…I was not sure that my thoughts about my emotional state are worth sharing and actually worth having…”

19500222321_38046d6b01_oAnother goal that we had for these training sessions was to help the participants get their stories out to their English teacher colleagues in the United States and beyond.  The conflict in eastern Ukraine, while continuing well over a year now, has been reduced in many Western media outlets to an occasional photo or short blurb—many of the teachers were surprised to learn that something of such magnitude in their lives and country on a daily basis is barely mentioned anymore in American news.  Personal stories like those from our teacher trainees are rarely shared in the headlines, making it hard to fully grasp what has really been going on and what they have been through.

“Maybe my story will change someone’s life, maybe not.”

“A lot of difficulties and grief were on our paths, but the spirit of light and faith were leading us.”

“Last year, I saw a lot of strength in a lot of people I know.”

In addition to resiliency sessions on teaching compassion and creating action plans, we led our teachers through sessions on modern and creative methodologies in the EFL classroom, including teaching English through art, photography, and music.  We also gave sessions on how to access and use the free online resources provided to English teachers by the U.S. Embassy’s Regional English Language Office, specifically those found at the American English website and in Forum magazine.

More than anything, we wanted our teachers to have fun while they were with us!  Having an art table, late-night movie-watching, mini-dance parties, and a photo scavenger hunt around the city drew us all closer while giving them a brief respite from their troubles.  Laughing together definitely allowed them to build positive and meaningful connections and new friendships during such difficult times.

“Thank you for extending compassion and flexibility.”

“I’ve had in my head so many things, concerns, knowledge, worries…about teaching, career and life…and today you managed to put some of them in order.”

CBT_7458At the end of the six days together, Eve and I were not only touched by the inspiration and optimism of our teacher trainees, but were also left with a renewed sense of the importance of compassion, resiliency, and connections.  It’s great to know that they’ll be bringing that passion and inspiration into the classroom with them this semester. Having had this opportunity to work with those who will be carrying Ukraine into a brighter future is something that is incredibly impactful to me and which I hope will continue to influence my work with both teachers and my students in the future.

“Through teaching English we learn how to be compassionate and friendly to each other.”

“I root for my country and I believe that eventually it’ll show everybody what it’s worth.”

Crimea: Kremlin Mistreats Minorities

Pasted by: IIP State

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This is the fifth of a five-part series on the costs Russia’s actions have imposed on Crimea.

Under Russia’s broad extremism law, the Russian government has sought to declare that minority religious groups in Crimea are “extremists”. Crimean Tatars, Catholics, and Ukrainian Orthodox faithful face harassment and the confiscation of property simply because of their faith.

The costs of Russia’s actions in Ukraine are real.
Stand United for Ukraine.
Stop Russian Aggression.

Learn more about the costs of Russia’s actions in Ukraine by following #UnitedforUkraine

Crimea: Forced into Russian Citizenship

Posted by ShareAmerica

Читати українською

This is the fourth of a five-part series on the costs Russia’s actions have imposed on Crimea.

It’s been one year since Russia began its aggressive occupation of Crimea. After the illegal referendum, it was nearly impossible for those Crimeans who wished to retain their Ukrainian citizenship to do so. They were forced instead to become Russian citizens.

The costs of Russia’s actions in Ukraine are real.
Stop Russian aggression.
Stand United for Ukraine.

Learn more about the costs of Russia’s actions in Ukraine by following #UnitedforUkraine

Crimea: Russia’s Illegal Occupation Tanks Tourism

Posted by ShareAmerica

Читати українською

This is the third of a five-part series on the costs Russia’s actions have imposed on Crimea.

It’s been one year since Russia began its aggressive occupation of Crimea. Since then, the number of visitors to the once tourist hotspot has dropped by 45% – a tough statistic to live with when the income of one in three Crimean families depends on tourism.

The costs of Russia’s actions in Ukraine are real.

Stop Russian aggression.

Stand United for Ukraine.

Learn more about the costs of Russia’s actions in Ukraine by following #UnitedforUkraine

Crimea: Forced Disappearances

Posted by ShareAmerica

Читати українською

This is the second of a five-part series on the costs Russia’s actions have imposed on Crimea.

Since the start of Russia’s illegal occupation, Human Rights Watch has documented at least 15 cases in which Crimean Tatars or pro- Ukraine activists were, abducted or went missing in Crimea. They believe the true number is much higher.
The costs of Russia’s actions in Ukraine are real.
Stop Russian Aggression. Stand United for Ukraine.

Learn more about the costs of Russia’s actions in Ukraine by following #UnitedforUkraine

Costs to Crimea: 1 year after Russia’s occupation

Posted by ShareAmerica

Читати українською

A woman holds a banner that reads “Putin is an Occupier” during a rally against Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea in Simferopol, Crimea, March 11, 2014. (© AP Images)
A woman holds a banner that reads “Putin is an Occupier” during a rally against Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea in Simferopol, Crimea, March 11, 2014. (© AP Images)

One year ago, on March 16, Russia orchestrated an illegal referendum in Crimea that violated the Ukrainian constitution and was condemned by the international community. This is the first of a five-part series on the costs Russia’s actions have imposed on Crimea.

How did an illegal referendum come about?

In late February 2014, Russia began an aggressive campaign of military intervention in Crimea, a peninsula in southern Ukraine. Russian forces wearing ski masks and combat uniforms without markings seized the Crimean regional parliament, several government

In late February 2014, Russia began an aggressive campaign of military intervention in Crimea, a peninsula in southern Ukraine. Russian forces wearing ski masks and combat uniforms without markings seized the Crimean regional parliament, several government buildings and the airport. They installed checkpoints on Crimea’s boundary with its neighboring Ukrainian provinces and fired at unarmed Ukrainian military personnel.

Ukrainian Crimeans were given 10 days’ notice to vote in a public referendum, which gave them two choices for their future — to join Russia or become independent. Voters had no option to oppose either of the ballot questions or to maintain the status quo, which would mean remaining part of Ukraine.

The Kremlin claims that an overwhelming 97 percent voted to join Russia, even though a poll taken one month before the referendum showed that only 41 percent of Crimea’s population favored that outcome.

The White House called the referendum “contrary to Ukraine’s constitution” and said that “the international community will not recognize the results of a poll administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military” that is in violation of international law.

International response

In response to Russia’s illegal actions in Crimea, the U.S. and a broad coalition of countries imposed political and economic sanctions against Russian and Crimean officials responsible for orchestrating the Crimean crisis and undermining Ukrainian sovereignty.

Costs to Crimea

Under Russia’s occupation, the people of Crimea have suffered human, economic, political and social costs.

The U.S. continues to condemn Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea, which is part of Ukraine. The U.S. calls for an end to the occupation.

Learn more about the costs of Russia’s actions in Ukraine by following #UnitedforUkraine.

Russia’s Continuing Support for Armed Separatists in Ukraine and Ukraine’s Efforts Toward Peace, Unity, and Stability

Posted by: Office of the Spokesperson, U.S. Department of State
July 14, 2014
Mortar Attack in Luhansk, Ukraine on July 14, 2014
Mortar Attack in Luhansk, Ukraine on July 14, 2014

The United States’ goal throughout the crisis in Ukraine has been to support a democratic Ukraine that is stable, unified, secure both politically and economically, and able to determine its own future. Therefore, we support ongoing dialogue among the foreign ministers from Ukraine, Germany, France, and Russia to work toward a sustainable ceasefire by all parties in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine that would build toward a lasting peace. We should emphasize, however, that our ultimate goal is not just a temporary halt to violence. We want Russia to stop destabilizing Ukraine and occupying Crimea, a part of Ukraine’s territory, and allow all of the people of Ukraine to come together to make their own decisions about their country’s future through a democratic political process.

Ukrainian President Poroshenko has proposed a detailed peace plan that includes a promise of amnesty for separatists who laid down their arms voluntarily, and who are not guilty of capital crimes, decentralization of powers within Ukraine, and protection of the Russian language. He also implemented a unilateral ten-day ceasefire on June 20 to create room for a political solution, which unfortunately was not reciprocated by the separatists and their Russian backers.

While Russia says it seeks peace, its actions do not match its rhetoric. We have no evidence that Russia’s support for the separatists has ceased. In fact, we assess that Russia continues to provide them with heavy weapons, other military equipment and financing, and continues to allow militants to enter Ukraine freely. Russia denies this, just as it denied its forces were involved in Crimea — until after the fact. Russia has refused to call for the separatists to lay down their arms, and continues to mass its troops along the Ukrainian border. Many self-proclaimed “leaders” of the separatists hail from Russia and have ties to the Russian government. This all paints a telling picture of Russia’s continued policy of destabilization in eastern Ukraine.

Here are the facts:

  • Russia continues to accumulate significant amounts of equipment at a deployment site in southwest Russia. This equipment includes tanks of a type no longer used by the Russian military, as well as armored vehicles, multiple rocket launchers, artillery, and air defense systems. Russia has roughly doubled the number of tanks, armored vehicles, and rocket launchers at this site. More advanced air defense systems have also arrived at this site.
  • We are confident Moscow is mobilizing additional tanks that are no longer in the active Russian military inventory from a depot to send to this same deployment site.
  • We are concerned much of this equipment will be transferred to separatists, as we are confident Russia has already delivered tanks and multiple rocket launchers to them from this site.
  • Available information indicates Moscow has recently transferred some Soviet-era tanks and artillery to the separatists and that over the weekend several military vehicles crossed the border.
  • Social media videos of separatist military convoys suggest Russia in the past week alone has probably supplied the militants with at least two-dozen additional armored vehicles and artillery pieces and about as many military trucks.
  • Publicly available videos posted on July 14 of a Luhansk convoy on the road to Donetsk revealed at least five T-64 tanks, four BMP-2 armored personnel carriers (APC), BM-21 multiple rocket launchers, three towed antitank guns, two ZU 23-2 antiaircraft guns, and probably a 2B16 mortar.
  • A video of Krasnodon, near the Izvaryne border crossing, on 11 July showed two BTR armored personnel carriers, two antitank guns, and various trucks on a road heading in a westerly direction towards Donetsk.
  • A video filmed in Donetsk on 11 July showed a convoy of three BMD-2 APCs, two BMPs, one 2S9 self-propelled gun, and a BTR-60 APC.
  • In addition, after recapturing several Ukrainian cities last weekend, Ukrainian officials discovered caches of weapons that they assert came from Russia, including MANPADS, mines, grenades, MREs, vehicles, and a pontoon bridge.
  • Ukrainian forces have discovered large amounts of other Russian-provided military equipment, including accompanying documentation verifying the Russian origin of said equipment, in the areas they have liberated from the separatists.
  • Photographs of destroyed or disabled separatist equipment in eastern Ukraine have corroborated that some of this equipment is coming from Russia.
  • Recruiting efforts for separatist fighters are expanding inside Russia and separatists are looking for volunteers with experience operating heavy weapons such as tanks and air defenses. Russia has allowed officials from the “Donetsk Peoples’ Republic” to establish a recruiting office in Moscow.
  • Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, who has long had a distinguished career in the Ukrainian military, was taken by separatists in mid-June. She is now being held in a prison in Voronezh, Russia. According to the Ukrainian government, she was transferred to Russia by separatists.
  • Separately Russia continues to redeploy new forces extremely close to the Ukrainian border. We have information that a significant number of additional military units are also in the process of deploying to the border.

Ukraine’s Good-Faith Efforts: In a bid to unify the country, President Poroshenko outlined a comprehensive peace plan on June 7. President Poroshenko’s plan offers amnesty to separatists who lay down their arms voluntarily, and who are not guilty of capital crimes; commits to providing a safe corridor for Russian fighters to return to Russia; establishes a job creation program for the affected areas; includes an offer of broad decentralization and dialogue with eastern regions, including the promise of early local elections; and grants increased local control over language, holidays, and customs. President Poroshenko also has reached out to the residents of eastern Ukraine and is pursuing constitutional reform which will give local regions more authority to choose their regional leaders and protect locally-spoken languages.

President Poroshenko implemented a unilateral seven-day (later extended to ten days) unilateral ceasefire on June 20. He also proposed meeting with leaders from eastern Ukraine — including separatists — despite their stated unwillingness to abide by the cease-fire or to negotiate.

Yet Russia and its proxies in Donetsk and Luhansk did not act on this opportunity for peace. Hours after the ceasefire began, Russia-backed separatists wounded nine Ukrainian service members. During the course of the ten-day ceasefire, Russia-backed separatists attacked Ukrainian security forces over 100 times, killing 28 service members. The separatists continue to hold more than 150 hostages, mostly civilians, including teachers and journalists. Separatists have refused all offers by the Ukrainian government to meet.

This timeline of events leading to, during, and after the unilateral Ukraine ceasefire illustrates how the good-faith efforts of the Ukraine government and European leaders to broker a ceasefire with Russia and the separatists it backs have been rejected. Russia and the separatists they are supporting continued to destabilize Ukraine throughout the ceasefire, and continue to destabilize Ukraine today.

  • May 25: Petro Poroshenko, who had campaigned on a platform stressing reconciliation with the east and Russia, is elected by an absolute majority of voters in Ukraine.
  • June 8-17: President Poroshenko hosts five rounds of contact group talks, facilitated by the OSCE envoy, in the lead-up to his announcement of a ceasefire.
  • June 12: Poroshenko initiates a call to President Putin to open communication.
  • June 14: EU-brokered gas talks end with a final EU brokered proposal: Ukraine accepts the proposal, but Russia rejected it.
  • June 19: Poroshenko meets with eastern Ukrainian leaders, including separatists, in Kyiv.
  • June 20: Poroshenko implements a seven-day unilateral ceasefire. Hours later, nine Ukrainian service members are wounded by pro-Russian separatists, foreshadowing separatists’ 100 plus violent actions over the next 10 days.
  • June 23: The contact group meets in Donetsk.
  • June 25: NATO Secretary General Rasmussen notes that there are “no signs” of Russia respecting its international commitments with regard to Ukraine.
  • June 27: Ukraine provides constitutional reform provisions to the Venice Commission for review. This reform would allow for the direct election of governors and for local authorities to confer special status on minority languages within their regions.
  • June 27: Poroshenko extends the unilateral ceasefire another 72 hours to allow another chance for OSCE contact group negotiations to show progress.
  • June 28: Ukraine shoots down two Russian UAVs violating Ukraine’s airspace in the Luhansk region.
  • June 30: Due to the separatists’ refusal to abandon violence in favor of negotiation, President Poroshenko allows the cease-fire to expire.
  • July 3: President Poroshenko in a telephone conversation with U.S. Vice President Biden reaffirms that he is ready to begin political negotiations to resolve the situation in Donetsk and Luhansk regions without any additional conditions.
  • July 8: President Petro Poroshenko visits the former rebel stronghold of Slovyansk to meet with local residents after government forces recapture it from pro-Russian separatists.
  • July 9: Ukraine restores electricity and train service to Slovyansk, and Ukrainian security forces distribute food, drinking water, and humanitarian aid to the population.
  • July 11: The Ukrainian government establishes an inter-agency task force in Slovyansk that is conducting damage, security, and humanitarian needs assessments.
  • July 11: The Ukrainian government reports that it delivered over 60 tons of humanitarian aid supplies in Donetsk Oblast over the preceding 24 hours, bringing the five-day total to 158 tons. President Poroshenko announces that Ukrainian security forces had successfully cleared nearly 100 mines and roadside bombs from liberated territory.

As General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, stated on July 1: “The cease fire in Ukraine was not ended because of accusations; it was ended because Russian-backed separatists responded with violence while President Poroshenko tried to open a window for peace. Russia’s commitment to peace will be judged by its actions, not its words.” As the United States and our European allies have repeatedly stated, we call on the Russian government to halt its material support for the separatists, to use its influence with the separatists to push them to lay down their arms and abide by a ceasefire and to release all hostages. Only then can the process of bringing peace to Ukraine truly begin.

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