|27 Sep 2023
|2023 Finalists Global Teacher Prize
In her home city of Kharkiv, Liudmyla Tabolina felt like a target on her way to school hunted with all kinds of weapons since the first day of the war. Before public transport resumed operating in the city, she walked 11 kilometres to work and back for four months, passing through numerous checkpoints where her documents were checked, shattered glass and sounds of explosions. The last peaceful photo from her Ukrainian literature class in 5th grade on February 23, 2022, is still saved on her phone.
From the first day of the war her school was turned into a shelter for residents from neighbouring buildings and on February 24th, she hid class journals, stamps, documents, personal files of children, and staff from the enemy. At the same she organized the equipment of the shelter. Air raids and rocket attacks became a regular occurrence, but despite difficult circumstances, she went to school every day. On weekdays, weekends, or holidays, dozens, sometimes even hundreds of people lived in the school`s basement. At the beginning of March, Liudmyla opened a cafeteria for them, providing all the school's food supplies. There were many mothers with children in the shelter and the school served as a humanitarian headquarters. Residents from destroyed buildings came there, often wearing slippers. Volunteers brought supplies, and Liudmyla sorted them on the first floor and arranged them on school desks for people to take.
On 1 April 2022, school resumed distance learning on a voluntary basis, but with many children finding themselves in difficult conditions, some having to attend classes from basements, subway stations, corridors, and shelters. Despite everything, Liudmyla supported children and her team of teachers, and parents, not complaining about anyone except the Russians. Many heartbreaking moments ensued during lessons, when students became emotional and started crying. Seeing how children were laughing through tears, she tried to provide psychological support and help them. Throughout April and May 2022, mornings at school began with cleanup. Liudmyla and her colleagues cleaned the area, planted flowers, trimmed dry branches from trees, swept, and every day collected fragments of Russian rockets from the area.
Curator of her school's Euroclub, she shared her travel experiences with students, inspiring them to bravely pursue adventures, including civic activism, initiatives, and collaboration reaching far beyond the boundaries of Ukraine, including a campaign to raise awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Ukraine and EU countries, initiatives against bullying, anti-discrimination campaigns, a Day of Tolerance, memorial hours to honour Holocaust victims, gender education classes, including online games 'Tolerance' and 'Children's Rights'. She posts her own lesson materials for Ukrainian language and literature online. This year, she had to hold the graduation ceremony online, not wanting to risk gathering children and parents near the school. After the event started, Russians targeted Kharkiv with an Iskander missile, but otherwise, it was what she describes as a “regular graduation ceremony”, where she gave a short speech, parents congratulated their children, and the kids danced a virtual waltz wearing yellow and blue shirts. Russians have continued to direct their anger towards her city, including Grad rockets, Smerch rockets and Iskander missiles, S-300 missile systems and artillery. She says: “Despite everything, my beloved Kharkiv stands and fights, and I stand with it. The city stands strong and brave thanks to its residents.” And in no small part, thanks to teachers like Liudmyla Tabolina.