A lesson from a teacher from Luhansk: “You shouldn’t force, you should offer”
“I was not born patriotic. My wife and I were separatists till the last moment”, says Svyatoslav Storozhev, primary school teacher from Luhansk.
“I did not support pro-Russian rallies, but I did not protest against them either. I thought: if Russia comes here, then let it be Russia, we will manage to live somehow.”
“But when I saw people who were going to that “referedum” like zombies, something happened to me. It was a horrible feeling when your country was literally slipping our of your hand. Only at that moment I understood that the word “state” meant”, says Svyatoslav about the spring of 2014.
The Storozhevs left Luhansk because of their son who, despite being a garden engireer by profession, joined the Army to fight for Ukraine. It was extremely dangerous for them to stay on the occupied territory.
“When Maidan started our son was in Kyiv on business. He went there to have a look and he was telling us then with so much excitement: “I talked to people there, everything is so real. They are not drug addicts, they are not there for money, what mass media tell us here is not true. People are there because they want changes in Ukraine.” My wife and I were really moved by that story”, says Luhansk teacher about the first shoots of patriotism in his family.
It is hard to believe now, when you talk to Svyatoslav, that his patriotism was born only two years ago.
Svyatoslav works at one of Slovyansk secondary schools with the Russian language of studying and he tries to make local children more Ukraine-oriented little by little. His 1-A form is special not only in his school, but also in the whole city of Slovyansk. Each day starts with singing the Ukrainian Anthem here.
“At the beginning of the academic year I told the children: “If we sang the anthem on September 1, why don’t we try to do it again on September 2?” I explained them that you should stand when you are singing the anthem. Then, I told tham that I was going to put my hand on my heart, but they were free to do as they wanted. Then I suggetsed that we sing the anthem on September 3 and so on, and so on”, tells us the teacher.
After singing the anthem, pupils shout out in chorus: “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to Heroes!”
Though the war is not far from Slovyansk, this slogan is still not accepted by some of the locals.
“My mom prohibits me to say these words, she tells me that these are bad words”, says Diana, a first grader, with disappointment. Still, she shouts “Glory to Ukraine!” with the rest of the form, despite the ban.
“Glory to Ukraine” means that we should love, respect and appreciate our Ukraine, and “Glory to Heroes” means that we should protect it”, explains Diana the meaning of the “banned" words.
As the teacher tells us, some parents prohibit their children to put their hand on the heart when they sing the anthem. Still, kids do not want to stand out and everyone puts them there, though, some of the kids confuse hands.
“I put it on the heart and I can hear the heartbeat, but a seven-year-old child thinks that it is just a gesture. That is why they can confuse left and right", says Svyatoslav.
Maybe, the kids do not listen to the heartbeat, but they can understand the sense of this gesture very well.
“It means that we love Ukraine”, explains Sofia, a seven-year-old.
Storozhev says that older pupils have also started to treat Ukrainian symbols with more respect. He remembers that during the previous academic year he noticed several times that teachers had to force older pupils to stand up when the Ukrainian Anthem was playing at some events.
This is how the teacher sees the way patriotism can be taught in the Donbas: “Now I do not witness such cases any more. Even if some of the pupils do not like it, they still stand up. Probably, this is where we have to begin. I mean, even if you do not share the ideas which the anthem contains, you respect it anyway.”
He objects the idea of singing the anthem daily with the whole school as “it is impossible”.
“We cannot force anyone. With the first graders it’s different, they perceive singing the anthem as something natural, it is a part of their school routine now, like a break or lunch at the school canteen”.
The teacher confesses that some of his school colleagues condemn him as he “involves children into politics”.
“But the anthem isn’t about politics, it’s just about being patriotic. A lot of people in our region remember the USSR. But then we were also taught to love our motherland, everyone knew patriotic poems by heart”, the teacher who grew up at the USSR times draws historic parallels.
“I told the parents at once that even though we are a school with the Russian language of studying, all official events are going to be in Ukrainian and their children are going to learn the Ukrainian language profoundly. No one objected. Maybe, some of them are afraid, maybe, they respect us and did not want to say anything. When we had the official ceremony of first graders’ initiation, I asked the parents to dress their kids in vyshyvankas (traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirts). Then the parents told me that their children looked very nice in vyshyvankas”, remembers Svyatoslav.
The majority of children did not have embroidered shirts for the beginning of the school year on September 1. “I had a white blouse and my mom attached ribbons which looked like Ukrainian patterns to it”, Masha, a little girl, boasts of her “vyshyvanka”.
In a month, Svyatoslav Storozhev saw the results of his work for making new generation more Ukraine-oriented: “One mom told me that she was walking with her son in the centre of the city and suddenly they heard that the Ukrainian Anthem started playing. The boy stopped, took his mother’s hand to make her stand near him. Then, he waited till the end of the Anthem and said quietly to himself: “Glory to Ukraine”.
Half a year after the beginning of Ukrainization, none of the parents has asked to shift their child to another class. However, one mom was especially concerned with the fact that her family does not share the teacher’s pro-Ukrainain views.
“Then, I found out that while we were singing the anthem here, their father was fighting for “DPR”, explains the teacher.
Maryana Pyetsukh, Slovyansk-Kramatorsk-Druzhkivka, for Ukrainian Truth, Life.
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