Teaching through conflict: Ukrainian teachers’ experiences of the war

24th February 2023. It is a full year since Russia invaded Ukraine. It’s a full year since we woke up to the news of missiles falling on Kyiv, a city we had called home for nearly five years. A full year since we found ourselves suddenly unemployed and instead of working, spent the day, and the days that followed, tracking friends and colleagues as they traveled to borders to leave the country, or to country houses and smaller cities to escape Kyiv. Or keeping in touch with people as they stayed behind in Kyiv, where people were sleeping in their bathrooms or in metro stations.

A year on, the war is still continuing, with no sign that it will stop. As I write this, Biden has just made a surprise visit to Kyiv on the anniversary of the Heavenly Hundred, those that were killed in the 2014 Maidan Revolution.

People often ask us ‘how are your friends there?’ ‘have they all left now?’ ‘are they safe?’. The short answer is that they are ok but not safe, and many of them have not left, or have left and returned.

We wanted to show a longer answer than that, and to amplify some of their stories. Why didn’t people leave and why did they return to a place that still isn’t safe? We can understand the questions. It’s hard to understand how people feel when you aren’t there and you aren’t connected. It’s easy to see and read things in the news and for it to become just background noise. When you don’t have personal connections to a place, it’s hard to see the real people involved.

So please take some time to read the personal stories of some of the English teachers in Ukraine who we are proud to call our friends.

For our other Ukrainian teacher friends who are not in the post, if you want to tell your stories, we’d be happy to publish another post, so let us know.


Mariana worked with me (Kris) at Dinternal Education in Kyiv. We worked together on loads of projects – including writing and publishing a grammar book (‘Grammar in Focus A2+’ out now!). Despite huge changes in her life since last year, she found the time to write us this…

Mariana (left) with Kris (middle!) and another colleague, Lena at a teacher training event in Ukraine (from the Dinternal Education Facebook page)

24 February 2022 – 6 am

The alarm clock rings and you open your eyes. You feel sleepy and the head feels heavy, but not from a party, no, you just couldn’t force yourself to fall asleep the night before. You did feel stressed and nervous, but giving the news that was not too surprising.

It was supposed to be just an ordinary Thursday, a routine day in the office. Working on a webinar for German teachers, proofreading an upcoming Grammar book (spoiler: it did come out, almost a year later, but it’s here). So, feeling sleepy you look out your window and this is bizarre. Too many cars, too many people, something is wrong. And then, like in a quality Hollywood film the events escalate – you hear and feel a fighter bomber going above your head. Well, you are back at home, 13th floor, with 11 more floors on top of you, but the panes tremble and you do feel like it is right over your head. The next moment you hear (or think you hear maybe) a loud bang and you see a sunrise out of your window. But again, this can’t be right. The sun does not rise there. And then you understand that Borispil airport, which is in that direction, is being bombed. And probably you heard the fighter that did it a moment ago. And then your heart sinks and you understand – this is war. All common sense is just mumbling – this cannot be happening, it is 21st century, people build colonies on Mars, but no, this is war, right at your door, right in your house and nobody asked you if you want it, nobody gave you a choice.

That moment you get a call from dad, asking how are you. And then saying, ‘That bastard did start a war. Maybe you come home for a while?’

And yes, you say it is ok and quiet at your place, but you will come. So you start packing the things quickly, listening to the deafening silence and well, a few more fighter bombers above you (or maybe that was the same plane, who knows). You hand shakes a little bit, but you are the lucky one. You have a car, you have parents in western Ukraine, real close to the Polish border, you have somewhere to run.  And thanks to a habit – you have a full tank (like always).

So you set off, with a stressed pug on your right, a laptop and a few things in the back you begin what turns out to be a 23 hour drive. It took around 7 hours to leave Kyiv, and you picked an acquaintance on the way (so now there are two ladies and a pug – crossing the country). The traffic is hell, but there is no beeping and everyone is polite. People let you go, turn, change lines, because we are Ukrainians and we are all in the same boat. The navigator leads you to M06, which you have never driven before, and the road is shabby, and it is in the North (which does not seem like a safe side of the border). Well, you are around 70km to the South from the Belarussian border (and now you know that that can be covered by a tank in around one hour). It is stressful, and there are a lot of cars, all going in the same direction. And queues at gas stations are just unbelievable (but you have a full tank, and it is more than enough to cover your 650 km). You get to drive in the field a little, you get through block posts, and then 23 hours later you finally arrive at a safe place.

The next two weeks you just read the news, cry, and keep repeating like a mantra – there is one day less before it all finishes. Naïve, that’s what I was. Now, almost a year later you know that it still has not finished. Till summer you stay put, check the air raid warning, resume working, do a bit of teaching. Thank God your company does not close and slowly you start working bit by bit again, so you are busy and you have money income, and thus can invest a bit into a national satellite, into the purchase of a bairaktar or into wool for volunteers to knit socks for our guys at the front line, etc. Never before had I realized how close people in need can get, and if you take the whole nation, just everyone – you get shivers. Now, you get a lot of those in here, on all the possible occasions.

Then you come back to Kyiv in summer, going along M07, and you see destroyed dwellings along the road. You do cry, and then go back to work. And life goes on, so summer settles in, then comes the fall and the rockets arrive. Or was it earlier? So, air raid warnings become often, and electricity is not that often on in your home. You have to adjust, get up at 3 am to do the washing, grill something, take a shower (right, no electricity – no pumps – no heating, no hot or cold water). But life goes on … so you need to plan and adapt, buy an Ecoflow to keep working, research and buy light bulbs with accumulators, a tourist gas cooker, etc.

Mariana running a teacher training session before the war

And even one year later, you still cry (Dnipro, a block of flats, 46 lives, and just tens of terrible stories and events every day). But you also know that you do not have a choice, your country has been attacked and invaded and you were never given a choice. Moreover, there never was anything that you could do, because your very existence is the reason. So you keep working and make sure your Grammar Book does see the light and German teachers get to learn about the new book, because we will need to know the languages after we win. We will need to see and travel to all the European countries (and not only) out there and be able to say thank you to all those helping us now. So, yeah, we are pretty busy with all that at the moment!

If you want to read our story of leaving Ukraine and what happened before and after the war, your next read should be our post We need to talk about Ukraine.


We met Alice while we were all working at the London School of English in Odesa back in 2014. She’s a passionate English teacher and CELTA trainer who loves her students, maybe as much as they love her. Here is what she has to say about her life during the war.

Kate and Alice on a cable car in the Carpathian mountains on a work trip back in 2015

I’m a teacher, freelance teacher trainer, international examiner and school co-owner. We used to have a small office in the city centre, just two classrooms, but it was cosy and nice – my friends and I had spent a lot of time making it a lovely safe space for ourselves and our students.

Alice and her colleagues at her English language centre (from the StudyHub Odesa Facebook page)

I have to say, it wasn’t until December 2021 that I really started to get worried about a possible invasion. In Odesa, we always used to take things more light-heartedly, but that month I spent some time with a friend of mine from Kyiv, and she was talking about it a lot. Needless to say, my bug out bag was ready there and then…

Then in February, Putin declared that Luhansk and Donetsk regions were part of Russia, and it was clear that something worse would happen soon. Like millions of other Ukrainians, I didn’t want to believe it would happen, and like millions of other Ukrainians, I woke up to the sounds of explosions on the 24th. Despite having been prepared (or so I thought), I had no idea what to do. I have two cats, a dog (and saved another dog from the streets later in March), and no car or a place to go other than my flat.

So I stayed there and, to be honest, felt okay for about two months, until one day suddenly I realised I couldn’t deal with the explosions, the gunshots, the general fear that one could almost see. At that point we were trying to continue our work online. We tried to support others by providing free classes for a while. Focusing on work helped me stay sane back then. A friend of mine was volunteering abroad at that time, and she had met another volunteer online who offered help in France. She was nudging me for some time to go there.

One day, a russian missile hit an oil refinery in my city, and the explosion was so bad that it was a tipping point for me. In the middle of April we packed up and left with the two dogs (the cats were too old to survive the stress of a journey, unfortunately, so my friend and a neighbour were looking after them for almost six months). We managed to get to Bucharest by bus, and there a wonderful family helped us by letting us stay with them for a couple of days and by finding another wonderful volunteer to drive us all the way to France, to a tiny village right in the middle of the country, where we stayed till the end of September.

I will be forever grateful to everyone in Romania and France for all their help, especially considering I had two large dogs with me. The elderly couple we stayed with there are definitely my family now, and I hope to see them again this year. During my stay there, I was able to work on several CELTA courses and continue my regular teaching, but the red tape, no job opportunities, the pressure of the whole situation turned out to be quite some burden.

By the end of summer, I felt I was in the right place mentally to return back home. It took us five days to travel all across Europe with the dogs, but the relief I felt being back was definitely worth it! I had more mental capacity to carry on now, and I felt I was where I was supposed to be.

Travelling with the dogs

I don’t regret any of the decisions made – the time away from the war was as important as being back closer to it. We had had to give up our beautiful office, but we continued to work online as normal until russians started attacking our infrastructure. Numerous attacks led to the situation we’re in now: I only get two to five hours of electricity during the day. Luckily, in my building, I have natural gas, central heating and tap water that runs as long as there are no massive blackouts. Sometimes I also go to an ‘unbreakability point’ that has generators and GPON internet connection, but it’s still quite unreliable. This means I spend most of my time these days just reading, walking or painting and then I teach an occasional lesson when I get the chance.

For now, it’s okay, but of course we can’t continue like this forever, so I might need to move to another country again to be able to live a normal life and continue donating to the army. If it happens, though, I’m sure I’ll be back home shortly to celebrate our victory.

There are several films you should watch and books you should read to get a better idea of what is happening in Ukraine. You can find our suggestions in our post on Films and Books about Ukraine


I (Kris) also worked with Yuliia at Dinternal Education where we sometimes did country-wide webinars together. Vova, her husband was ‘the IT guy’ and general can-do guy in the office. Despite facing the incredible challenges of the last year, Yuliia found some time to write the piece for us below.

Yuliia is also involved with Shchedryk Children Choir and after the war they managed to leave Ukraine briefly for a trip to take their music to the world. You might have seen them on the news when they performed in New York! Here they are performing ‘Carol of the Bells’ in Carnegie Hall. And here’s their website in English (designed and created by Yuliia also by the way!)… https://shchedryk.com.ua/index-en

What were you doing before the war started?

Before the war I was working as a teacher trainer, responsible for training Ukrainian teachers on how to work with authentic ELT materials, with a focus on online platforms for learning English (aka LMS or Learning Management Systems). My husband was working at the same company as our system administrator and technical support specialist. So we both had income from one place, which, as we can see now, was not the best idea. 

The days before the war, when commuting to work and home, we would discuss what we would do in case a war started. My husband really doubted a full-scale invasion, but nevertheless we talked about what we need to take our cat with us if we had to move out of the country. The only scenario when we would move out was agreed to be if the country failed and found itself under full Russian occupation. But we were pretty sure it would not happen. Still, the discussion took place just in case.

The evening before the war – on February 23rd we actually had our 8-year anniversary. We went to a pub, had a couple of beers and reminisced over those 8 years together. We did not stay up too late, though, because it was Wednesday, so the next day we were supposed to wake up early and go to work.

Yuliia training teachers at an event in Kyiv (from the Dinternal Education website)

What happened on and after February 24th?

As we live in the western part of Kyiv, we did not hear any explosions in the morning. I woke up with my alarm, turned it off and went to the bathroom. On my way there, trying to wake myself up properly, I checked the messages on Telegram. There were two messages from a good friend from work in our small friend group chat: 

“Are you asleep? We’ve heard explosions, our windows are shaking…” …

…and two messages from my dad: 

“Draw hot water in a thermos. There are explosions in cities. Putin has ordered the operation to start”. (My dad really needs to sort out his priorities, huh, Hermione Granger would approve)

It all felt really surreal. Mind you, it’s still around 6.30 am, so my mind is a little clouded. I started scrolling through the news on Google (at that time I wasn’t even following any Telegram channels like I am now). And then it struck me: it’s all true, the war has started. 

So I thought “Ok, I have to go and wake my husband up, as well as my mother-in-law”. So I went back to our bedroom, shook my husband’s shoulder and said the most terrifying words in my life so far: “Honey, wake up. It’s the war. It has started. We are being attacked right now”…

Well, I think I can skip the next hour or so because it was mostly Google-searching, parents-calling, friends-calling etc. Then, when I felt like I had to do something or I would go crazy, I started to pack the emergency backpack. Just 2 days before that I had installed a bot on Telegram telling you what to put in there, so I meticulously followed the instructions, realising we only have like 30% of what should be in that backpack. In the meantime, my friends were already shopping for food and basic necessities. We stayed in touch almost every 10 minutes the whole day, and then we would text each other every hour or so for the following week.

The first night I couldn’t sleep at all. Every moment I actually fell asleep I saw images of buildings being blown up, cars being destroyed, people killed, and it would immediately wake me up. So the next day was even worse because of lack of sleep. The next couple of days we would try to get to the pharmacist’s to buy important medicines (5 hours in a queue and you didn’t even get in because everything closed at like 5 pm), shop for some basic foods in random inconspicuous stores (because all supermarkets next to us were either closed or empty), and go to my father-n-law’s old soviet-style garage with a basement to sleep on a air mattress (mind you, we had to take 2 cats with us every time, it was (not) fun).

On March 1st, the Russians tried to blow up our Kyiv TV tower which is less than 1 km away from us. Our house shook like crazy. Not to mention that my husband walked past that TV tower from a supermarket a mere hour before it happened. That’s when we decided to get away from Kyiv. In a couple of days we packed some bags and went to Vinnytsia – our friends were staying there at the time and had a spare room. We would stay there till after May 9th, when we finally returned home and we never left Kyiv after that.

What are you doing now?

Because of the war, the operational future of our company was undefined, so I decided to count the war as a sign of changes and finally switch to IT, which I had planned for 2023 anyways. So I took some courses and started freelancing as a frontend developer. Later in autumn 2022 my husband got a job at a Ukrainian IT company, and I followed in January 2023. So actually we are now working at the same company again. But this time we are all better prepared and know what will happen and what we will do IF. But we also hope the IF will never happen again, because we wholeheartedly believe in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. 

To see more of what Ukraine was like before the war, we have lots of blogs of our travels around the country on our Ukraine Page


I (Kris) originally met Anna through my job as an Educational Methodologist when visiting her and her students at Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, which was the university next to LSE in Kyiv. She took the Cambridge TKT preparation course with me at LSE. After this we saw each other regularly at various events and have kept in touch right up till now. We’re grateful to her that she found time to share her story.

All the photos are Anna’s own.

Anna with Kris and the rest of a TKT class at LSE in Kyiv

24/02 5:40 My husband woke me up, shouting: “Faster, wake up, it has started!!!!!” I said, “Don’t worry, let’s make some tea and discuss the situation”. I was trying to keep calm, but I could clearly hear explosions, which were definitely freaking me out. Then I had a call from my ex-student, who is doing military service at the moment. He said: “Anna, you must pack your bags and leave Kyiv immediately. Go to some country house. The full-scale invasion has begun”. After his words, I felt terrified and helpless. I knew we couldn’t go to our county house, since it’s located a bit further than Bucha and there is a military base, just a few kilometres from it (Later, unfortunately, the territory where we have that house was occupied. Luckily our house was not damaged, but the neighbouring one was damaged a lot).

Damaged house in Ukraine
A house next to our country house was damaged by missiles

So, we made a decision to stay and hope for some mercy. I rushed to the supermarket, cause I knew there would be a catastrophe with food. By the time I arrived there, there were almost no cereals, no tinned food, and no bread at all. I took everything I could and had to spend an hour in a queue. The same day we packed some stuff, and blocked the windows with matrasses and blankets. That night we spent in our hallway. Our 7-year-old son was sleeping dressed up in winter clothes, right on the bags.

We live on the 11th floor, in the western part of Kyiv, 10-15km far from Irpin, Bucha and Hostomel. So, from our balcony we could see the smoke, coming from those towns all the time, sometimes feeling our flat.

Smoke from Anna's apartment
View from my apartment of the smoke from Irpin, Bucha and Hostomel

Life started to feel absolutely unreal; we were like having some nightmare which never ends. People in the neighbourhood were as united as never before, men organized patrol, aiming to build barricades, and watch the streets. We were blocking the entrance door to our block of flats, we were scared that armed Russian sabotage-reconnaissance groups could break in at any time.

I was so scared for my mum and my brother who live closer to the centre, but my mum kept telling me “Don’t worry, I’m in a lovely basement, with lovely people and a lovely cat here”. With the other women my mum was cooking food for our soldiers.

The following few weeks were very stressful. I could hardly manage to find food for my son and our animals (we had a cat, and in March 2022 we took a dog from volunteers). Food for animals was almost not available, it was a real quest to find some. The same situation was with medicines. Our relative died, because he was dependent on special pills which were no longer available in Ukraine.

Shelves in my local supermarket

March 15, 2022. We were sleeping in our hallway when we heard the sound of a massive explosion. I rushed to the window to see what was going on and I saw a missile, flying towards our house. I started screaming, we rushed out of our flat and encountered our neighbour. She said, “don’t worry, that missile was just crushed by our Air Defence. But the house next to ours was struck by another missile”. I looked out the window and saw a huge fire. 16-floor building was destroyed by flames just in a few hours. 6 people were killed.

I thought, ok, we will not leave Kyiv yet. What’s the chance that our house will have the same destiny? A few days later, another missile struck the house across the road.

And I finally thought: “That’s it. I need to take my son to some safe place”. My friend who lives with her family in Holland invited us, so we decided we should go. It was so heartbreaking to leave everybody who I really love, I didn’t know if I could see my family again, if they would be alive or not…

It took us a few days to get to Holland. We travelled through Poland and Germany. People were so supportive, so nice to us, and so empathetic that it made me cry. The hosting family in Holland were making their best to make us feel comfortable and safe in their house. Everything was fine there, but we couldn’t help missing our home, and our beloved ones. I was feeling like I was stuck in some waiting mode, and I couldn’t help anybody, I couldn’t do anything good for my country. And after just 3 weeks, in the mid of April, we were informed that our armed forces did their best and the Russians were already quite far from Kyiv, I decided we could go home.  We had to take 5 trains and a bus, and it took us 53 hours, but we were feeling so happy to be HOME!

My son on the journey

The journey to Holland helped me to recreate, and after it I almost stopped feeling anxiety and fear every day. My heart was full of hope, that everything would be fine eventually.

The territory where we have our country house was already freed from occupants. The artillery shell broke my pear tree, and it started growing again, telling me that life goes on, and we have to appreciate every single moment.

Nowadays we are staying at home, in Kyiv, and we’ve already gotten used to air alerts, drones and missile attacks. We have frequent electricity cuts (twice a day for 4 hours), which creates a challenge for me since our university works online. And what is more, we’ve got only an electric stove, and I can’t make a cup of nice strong black tea 😊

P.S. I am very grateful to all the countries, and all the people who are supporting us in these harsh times! Ukrainians are worth surviving, we are a friendly and hospitable nation.

P.P.S. The neighbouring houses were renovated already

If you’ve got to the end of the post, thank you for reading and listening to their stories. It’s important that we amplify voices so more people hear and support. Please share the post with others so we can do that.

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