Displaced Teacher Helps Ukraine Children Find Haven in Online School

Miriam Alexandrov of Dnipro continues her work from afar

In a time of unrelenting chaos and fear for the children of Dnipro, who are scattered around the world, an online version of their school back home in Ukraine has become a safe place to connect with friends, have fun and pray for peace together. It represents a break from reality.

Each morning, students in Ukraine, Europe and Israel gather on their computer screens, and the first thing they do is spend a moment in silence with friends and teachers from Dnipro. Together, they then pray for those who protect their lives, for the safety of their people and for one day returning home.

“All of my students talk about coming home. Only now do we really understand how amazing our Jewish community in Dnipro is,” says teacher Miriam Alexandrov, who fled her home in Dnipro with her family, hoping that it would only be for a few days, and was teaching online from Budapest, Hungary, before moving on to Israel on April 5. She will join the Dnipro community in Israel and continue to work with her students online. “The words Modeh Ani (‘I affirm my gratitude’) have become even more meaningful. We are so lucky and blessed to wake up each morning,” she tells Chabad.org.

One of Alexandrov’s students is Darina, a 9th-grader who is still in Dnipro with her family. “I choose to hope for the best,” Darina shared with Chabad.org. “I am grateful that we are doing relatively well, unlike people in many other cities. I am happy that everyone in my family and my beloved friends are alive and well.”

In their morning prayers said over Zoom each day, the students and teachers recite the same words they have been saying their whole lives, says Alexandrov, but with new meaning. “When they pray to G‑d for peace, they now understand what that peace really is,” says Alexandrov.

Recently, the school began separate Zoom sessions for students and teachers with the school psychologist and brought in a child psychologist from Israel for additional support. Although they do their best not to focus on the fear and pain, there is certainly space for it; and when it arises, the school’s staff is equipped to handle it.

“When I want to cry, I cry. When I want to laugh, I laugh. When I want to do nothing, I do nothing,” says Darina. I let all of my emotions out, and try not to keep them to myself. Thank G‑d there are people I can talk to who are willing to support me.”

Scattered around Ukraine, Europe and Israel, children and teachers from Dnipro find some sense of normalcy and comfort in their online school.


‘We Try to Focus on the Positive, on the Light’

The online school was launched by the Jewish community of Dnipro soon after the crisis began in late February. With some members of the Jewish community dispersing across the globe and others stuck in their homes waiting out the danger, Rabbi Shmuel and Chana Kaminezki, co-directors of Chabad of Dnipro and leaders of the community, knew they had to act fast to create some semblance of normalcy for their community, especially for the children.

Just a day after the war began and schools locked their doors, the teachers of the FJC Ohr-Avner Levi Yitzchak Schneerson Day School met to discuss opening a virtual classroom immediately.

“It was important for us to create a space for our students that didn’t only focus on the situation,” says Alexandrov. “Some of these kids are old enough to spend their time reading the news. We try to focus on the positive, on the light.”

As Alexandrov explains, schoolwork is sometimes the last thing on anyone’s mind, and the most important thing at the moment is the students’ emotional and mental health.

Most of the students left home with a mere overnight bag, escaping with their families to Ukraine’s surrounding countries with no plan and no place to go. Alexandrov has students who log on now from Germany and Israel, in addition to many who are still in Ukraine with their families.

And like Miriam Alexandrov, many of them pray to one day soon return home.

Today, Alexandrov is waiting in Budapest, Hungary, with her husband and children, along with her mother and sister’s family. Her father, like many others, was unable to leave the country. While they take the steps towards becoming Israeli citizens in case moving there becomes necessary, Alexandrov still talks about going home to Dnipro, hoping to reunite with her students and community.

For Alexandrov, who grew up in Rabbi Kaminezki’s ever-growing Jewish community and is now teaching at the very school she went to as a young girl, Dnipro is still home.

She notes that the Kaminezkis, along with some of her fellow teachers, have chosen to stay in Dnipro.

“Although many like me have fled the city,” says Alexandrov, “there is still a sense of togetherness as we all continue to support one another from afar. Even over Zoom, our community stands strong.”

Based on an article by Kayla Rosen | Chabad.org

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