Grade 6 students share thoughts on Ukraine

Author of the article: Patrick Gibson
Publishing date: Apr 06, 2022  

Zoe Danielczak and the rest of Mr. Belsey’s Grade 6 class at RancheView School speak to Natalia and her son Serge in central Ukraine via Zoom.
Zoe Danielczak and the rest of Mr. Belsey’s Grade 6 class at RancheView School speak to Natalia and her son Serge in central Ukraine via Zoom. PHOTO BY BILL BELSEY

A local Grade 6 class had a particularly unique window into the war in Ukraine, communicating via video link with a Ukrainian student of a similar age.

Bill Belsey’s class at RancheView School chatted with 13-year-old Serge from his hometown of Kirovohrad in central Ukraine last month. Serge was joined by his mother Natalia, who was working as a school principal when the war broke out.

“I think it’s kind of cool that we got to talk to somebody that’s actually in the middle of the war,” said Grade 6 student Tristinn Joshee.

“It’s kind of cool to know, but it’s also kind of sad, because at the end there were air raid sirens. I just feel bad for them.”

It was evident those air-raid sirens struck a chord with the whole class.

“When we were on the Zoom call we could actually hear the siren in the background which was a little scary,” Ashley Hunt explained.

“When they said that they had to go, I of course felt scared and sad for them because they said that they are in the bomb shelter for a very long period of time, like a few hours.”

“It felt a little bit sad at the end, because they heard air-raid sirens and that’s why they had to leave,” added classmate D’Angelo Austin.

Aliyah Halge said the Ukrainian pair were calm despite their difficult circumstances.

“When they heard the air raid sirens they were so polite and said ‘Can we please wrap this up because the air raid sirens are going on’,” she said.

“They were just really polite, and I felt sad that they had to go.”

That sentiment was shared across Mr. Belsey’s class: gratitude for the Ukrainian mother and son in taking time to speak with them.

“I just really appreciated them taking the time to talk to us even though they’re in a very scary situation,” explained Pavelle Smith.

“I just thought that it was a great learning experience, and it was good to know what was happening in Ukraine. I think they’re doing a great job fighting back against Putin.”

Her classmate Dani Pereira said “I was a little upset because they had to go to the bunker and they still had to sacrifice their time to the Zoom.”

“It’s really nerve-wracking because nobody knew, like, before Mr. Belsey texted Natalia, everyone was a little worried if she made it in time with Serge too.”

Added Belle Carr, “They didn’t have to go on Zoom with us and answer questions but they did anyway, so I think it was very nice.”

The discussion left some students with feelings of gratitude for the peace in their own hometown.

“When we were Zooming with Natalia and Serge it was really interesting, and it also made me sad to think that we have all these freedoms and theirs are kind of being taken away,” explained Emelia Alksne.

“We have this nice school where we get to come and learn everyday. Natalia is a principal of hers and her school has been destroyed and she kind of had to just sit back and watch us learn.”

“I think it was really nice of them to take the time to tell us what was going on there.”

Scarlett Kinning called it “an honour” to talk to the two.

“They’re in the middle of a war so it was kind of difficult for them to get on a Zoom call and answer questions about bombs and answer questions about all those types of upsetting things, and then go to a bomb shelter after while our class gets to come and learn,” she said.

“I think it’s really upsetting, and an honour for what we have for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well.”

Their teacher Mr. Belsey said Natalia is a friend and teaching colleague of many years.

“Natalia was a classroom teacher for some time. Until the war, she was a principal of a large school in her Ukrainian city. I check in with her every day,” Belsey noted in a March 31 email.

“Although the airport near her city has been bombed by the Russians, she and Serge are staying in their home for now. Should they decide to leave, my wife and I have let her know that they could stay with us here in Cochrane if they wished to do so.”

The class continues to learn about the unfolding conflict as part of current events in social studies.

“I just think that Ukraine is acting well in the war and is able to push back Russia really well, and I think that’s really good,” said Dawson Hull.

When the Times caught up with the class March 24, Google Earth (an interactive 3-D mapping program) was being projected onto a large screen. The class had been digitally exploring the borders of Ukraine, including the geopolitical differences between neighbors like Belarus or Poland.

“I thought it was really cool that we could learn about the Ukraine in social studies too just before when we talked to Natalia,” Elena Miller explained.

“I feel like that helped us understand the war when we talked to her.”

Classmates also expressed sympathy for Russian civilians.

“I hope that the Ukranians are safe, and I hope that Putin will stop attacking Ukraine, but I know that a lot of people are blaming the Russian people, and it’s not their fault it’s fully Putin,” Ashley Hunt said.

“But then people are blaming the Russian people and they’re getting mad at Russian people, when it isn’t their fault. They’re suffering too.”

“Honestly, I wish that Putin was thrown off of what he was doing,” added Dani Pereira.

“I know that many Russian people are suffering. We’re trying to see what’s going to happen and if everything gets even worse, I hope we’ll send in peacekeepers.”

An appreciation for the first-hand nature of their dialogue with Ukranians was clear.

“You can hear about the things on the news and see what’s happening and still feel sad and upset about what’s happening, but it’s different hearing it when someone’s experiencing it first-hand,” said Zoe Danielczak.

“I think talking to someone that’s coming straight from the source of whatever is happening in the world (is best), like talking to someone where a lot of the war is raging on close to them,” added Ethan Schumlick.

“What amazed me is she said that she heard troops were moving in closer to five kilometers from the city that she lives in, and I think it’s just crazy hearing stuff that’s coming straight from the source.”

Whether gratitude, fear, excitement or sympathy, it was evident the Zoom chat resonated with the Grade 6 class and is not a moment they’re likely to forget.

“It felt like a very special moment because I don’t think other classes are able to talk to someone in Ukraine like that and ask them what it is like being in a war and what’s happening around them,” noted Aliyah Halge.

Added classmate Pavelle Smith, “I felt very emotional while talking to them, because they were quite nervous…well, not nervous, but worried a little bit.”

“They were still good to talk to, and I just feel like it was a great experience for us to actually know what it’s like.”