Story #131: Librarian Educates Children Despite Carnage and Peril

January 11, 2024
Tetyana started an English-speaking club to teach and entertain children in a village where every building has been damaged.

After giving  birth to her own child during the war, Tetyana pondered ways to cheer up other children in her native village of Prybuzke in Mykolaiv Oblast. Soon, she decided to bring them together with an English-speaking club in the only village library.

"When we first started, it was very cold. There were no windows in the library, and it was freezing. Now, thankfully, we have windows and heating, so we can gather in normal conditions this winter."

It's not that they had options---this library was marred like every other building in Prybuzke. Some structures have been completely wrecked, while others have been merely damaged, but not one has been left untouched.

"From the first days of the war, it has been very loud here. As we are right on the border with the Kherson Oblast, we already had destruction in our village by the beginning of March. Of course, neither the village council nor the library were working, and many villagers fled to the West of Ukraine."

Tetyana also left Prybuzke for a while to keep her newborn away from danger. The thought of not returning even crossed her mind before she actually did.

I completed my studies in German and English and came to get my diploma. That was when I saw my home. We hadn't lived there for a year, and I had already believed there was no future in Prybuzke. However, I discovered that people were actually coming back here, rebuilding their homes, living their lives, and carrying on hope that things will get better. I thought, 'God, how I want to come back home.'

It was April 2023 when Tetyana and her family returned to Prybuzke, inspired by the unexpectedly vibrant life of their community. In the summer, Tetyana became the head of the library and joined in the common progress.

A soldier's note left at the library, saying, 'Thank you, I borrowed a book on 22.09.22. I read and enjoyed it. Returned it on 24.09.22. From a soldier of the AFU. Thank you.'

There were a few reasons for Tetyana to organize the English-speaking club. First and foremost was her love for children and lifelong desire to work with them. But she also saw the need to offer a distraction from the horrors around them.

"At first, the children were very withdrawn and somewhat frightened. Now, however, I feel that we've developed a friendship. They come, hug me, and ask how I am doing. I believe they come here not only for English but for communicating and the welcoming atmosphere. Gradually, they started to feel that I am not just a teacher, but that we share this special place where we gather."

After all, with the children forced to attend school online, and with the streets not always safe to play in, there should be an island of safety to come to.

"During our meetings, we forget about the air alarms, about the Shaheds, and the other missiles flying above us. We just chat, play games, sometimes sing, listen to music, draw, and that's it."

However, that is not all that the club is. It is also the only place where children are able to publicly express themselves, which is especially crucial during these hard times.

"They lust for creating. Each time they come, there's this question: Will we make something today? So, I integrate creativity into our classes. For example, if we draw, we learn colors or other related words."

A sunbeam falls on childrens' drawings created withing the club.

And while the young children understand the reality in which they live in their way and alternate between a few activities, the village's teens have the hardest time.

Tetyana's speaking club has a senior group for children in 5th through the 9th grade. But the village itself has little to offer teenagers, which Tetyana recognizes. Thus, in addition to administrating the library and running the speaking club, Tetyana also began leading the village youth council.

"Now, we have a lot of awesome projects for our village and for our community as a whole," she says.

One of the most absurd things to hear in the 21st century is that certain projects appeared impossible to carry out because the buildings where they were supposed to take place lacked roofs... The village recently received a grant for equipment for a community center, but would need another grant for restoration works.

We don't have any intact buildings. Not one. Every building is damaged.

Tetyana says that however hard it was, the people of Prybuzke never lost hope. This particularly motivated not only her return, but also her decision to stay and raise her child where Tetyana herself was born. Overall, she says, the villagers' shared grief even made them closer.

"It all changed us on an emotional level. We now sympathize with each other in a way that wasn't there before, understanding the troubles that have befallen us all. The same is true with the children. Initially, they were just afraid, but now they comprehend our feelings and recognize that we all are one family. I also understand their feelings better."

Sharing her knowledge with children and making them happy is what Tetyana expected from her career. Although this work entered her life in a rather unexpected way, she feels that she is right where she needs to be.

After all, children are the ones who will carry on our legacies and deeds, so Tetyana is putting her energy into the future despite the challenges of the present.

Lisa Dzhulai
Journalist at UkraineWorld