First-hand accounts from ORT Ukraine Teachers and Administrators


(As of March 9, 2022)

The war in Ukraine shows little signs of stopping and our ORT staff on the ground are coping as best they can in very stressful and hostile conditions. Please find below first-hand accounts that provide a window into the realities they are facing and how we need to support them.

Mila Finkelshtein, Chief Executive ORT Ukraine
It is a very challenging time and a difficult situation and hard to predict what comes next. Many people stayed as it is currently very risky to leave Kyiv, but some 50% have left. Many people keep their situation private and are not willing to share. Together with my colleague Viktoria Ovcharenko, Chief Accountant at ORT Ukraine, we managed to leave the city and are now staying in a small village close to Chernivtsi in the western part of the country where it is relatively quiet. We continue to work remotely from here. We just learned that one of our students and his family lost their home due to a bomb that destroyed their house. Fortunately, they had already evacuated to Ternopil, a city in the western Ukraine. They are staying there with some volunteers working on getting to Poland.

Syuzanna Khachatryan, teacher at ORT Technology Lyceum in Kyiv and head of R&D
Not everyone is in bomb shelters. People are staying in basements – some of which are not real shelters, the walls are too thin, sometimes there are windows. The basements have no ventilation and no beds so people are sleeping on floors.

It is currently not safe to move around the country. Each district/city has its own rules, curfew times, laws for movement. Before I left Kyiv with my family, the principal of Chernivtsi ORT School provided all this important information including local restrictions, how to speak to the military, who will be at the checkpoints, and how to reach our destination safely. It took a few days to arrive at the school and the principal brought us large bags full of groceries and fruits. She also gave the contact details of the village administration, for assistance should it be required. Every day we get inquiries to check on how we are doing and if our family needs anything.

I am proud and thankful to be part of the ORT network. People reach out from all over the world to see how they can help.

Natella Andryuschenko, ORT staff in Belaya Tserkov affiliated ORT school

During the night there were three rockets. We have 50 Jewish students housed in our school and they rotate out – some evacuate and others come in. We received aid from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews to buy supplies and food. We are helping a hospice for the elderly with food, water, and supplies. They are in a house with a basement but some of them are not physically able to descend to the basement during the sirens.

We were able to transfer three buses of people: The first bus is already in Romania – today or tomorrow there will be a flight (special flight to Israel for those who have all the necessary documents) and two other busses are approaching Mogilev-Podolsky. Everyone on those buses will eventually be transferred to Israel. They are mostly older people and families with children, but many mothers do not want to leave since their husbands are required to stay. Many mothers with children have relocated to small villages, or to the western Ukraine, where there are lodgings and they are setting up kindergartens for the children. We are extremely thankful for the funds that we have received, which enable us to provide assistance.

Click here to see a video of people leaving Belaya Tserkov.

Dolina Shalmina, School Principal, Zaporozhe

It’s been quiet for the last several days and we have not heard many sirens and alarms as compared to other places. Outside of the city military targets were attacked and there has been fighting for the past 24 hours. Approximately 20-25% of school families have left. They travel to the Uman region and from there to Chernivtsi or Lvov/Ivanofrankivsk. We are preparing information on the best route to leave Zaporozhe to Western Ukraine.

Our school has no shelters. The administration is in the school and parents and families are volunteering to help Ukrainian soldiers with food, water, hygiene products, etc. And even to secure barricades. We are expecting people fleeing Mariupol to arrive and we will offer all necessary help. We actually brought our refrigerators to the school to help store food and keep it fresh for everyone.

There is no internet connection in the basement shelters and therefore we cannot offer distance learning programs. There is no instruction at this time as we do not want to pressure the children with homework and exams. Zaporozhe school is now on two week holiday and they will assess what comes next. One teacher left her shelter and was injured by glass debris from a gunshot, but she luckily did not suffer serious injuries.

Anna Michurina, Information Communications Teacher and ORT Odessa, Director from Odessa
The last few nights were quiet; however we can hear the fighting between Nikolaev and Herson. The military targets are the objective of the Russian army and the greatest threat to us is from the sea. At this time we sighted three ships, which is very concerning. 70% of our teachers stayed here in Odessa. One teacher went to Moldova and another to Germany. Half of the school’s families and 80% of the administration have stayed in Odessa. We do not have a bomb shelter in the school. The school basement is not suitable as there are windows facing the street. Thankfully, we have a two-week break now.

We are gathering information about our school families to better serve them. There is unconfirmed information that the Government Minister of Education is thinking of resuming distance learning starting next week. This will be very difficult. Some things we have done for the children are to provide access to psychologists for counseling. They’ve been meeting daily at 10am to stay in touch and for example we taught the children how to make a 3D peace dove.

In general, public transportation is operating and pharmacies and shops are open but there are some items that are in short supply.