ORT Global Briefing: Ukraine – Highlights

On June 9 ORT hosted a Global Briefing on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine to share how your support has been put to work in the best ways possible and to provide an update on our current and future initiatives.

We thank those who were able to join the webinar moderated by Barbara Birch, ORT America President and CEO. “We sincerely appreciate the overwhelming global response we have received since this conflict began a little more than 100 days ago,” she said.

Overview: Dan Green, World ORT Director General and CEO

As most media outlets have reported, there are no areas in Ukraine that have been left untouched, including ORT’s operations that serve 3,500 full-time students in seven schools. The human toll is particularly devastating. Dan reported that the husband of a Jewish history teacher, who also used to teach in our school 20 years ago, was killed, bringing the total known deaths within ORT families to four, all connected to ORT Educational Complex #141, Kyiv.

More than half of our Ukraine school family population have left their homes, with the majority seeking shelter abroad. Those who have remained in the country are in contact with their schools and are receiving support to help alleviate the economic strain and purchase essentials such as food, water, clothing, and transportation.

For those who have fled to European Union countries, many believe and hope it will be a temporary relocation. For those who have gone to Israel, World ORT’s Kfar Silver Youth Village has welcomed 24 Ukrainian students with an additional 25 expected over the summer. The funding that we have received has enabled us to act quickly to accommodate these extra students with beds, improvements to facilities to create a comfortable living environment, and additional academic support. We are also providing critical mental health services to help the students manage the traumas that they have experienced.

On the Ground: Shoshana Kandel, World ORT Head of International Coordination Unit

The ongoing conflict continues to wreak havoc on families and teachers, with challenging economic and safety concerns throughout the country.

ORT schools have served as centers where people and families volunteer and prepare food and distribute humanitarian aid. ORT’s generosity in providing needed equipment including ambulances, which transport the sick and injured to medical facilities where they can receive care, is greatly appreciated.

An ORT-affiliated school in Bila Tserkva has helped large influxes of refugees from parts of Ukraine that are under constant threat. In other locations, such as Zaporizhzhia and Odesa, which are very close to the fighting, there is much uncertainty. Zaporizhzhia is the only city in the region which is not occupied.

With more than 50% of the students and many teachers living abroad, distance learning enabled the continuation of lessons until May 31st, the end of the academic year. During this time Jewish educational activities also continued, especially on Pesach during which an in-person Seder was held at the ORT school in Chernivtsi, a small city in the western part of Ukraine.

Ukrainian students are independently advocating for an end to the crisis. At our ORT Educational Complex #141, one of our students initiated an Instagram account called “stopwarbyORT. Their social media activity helps students stay in touch and share their experiences with each other.

The plan is for all schools and students to return to face-to-face education on September 1 for the new school year. State regulations require that all the schools have bomb shelters, shatter-proof windows and appropriate security. ORT schools are currently not equipped to meet these requirements. In addition, teachers are experiencing financial difficulties following government cuts to salaries. Teachers will not receive their regular salaries during the summer months. Receiving 24 weeks’ pay versus 56 is a drastic financial burden on teachers’ families. One of ORT’s top priorities is to retain our excellent professionals in both STEM and Jewish education by filling the salary gap.

Unemployment continues to be a challenge with many closed factories and businesses. As a result, services that were routine have now ceased. In one instance, a provider of food for the nurseries and kindergartens in Kyiv is no longer able to provide food because the storage facility was bombed.

The Vital Importance of Mental Health: Daniel Tysman, World ORT Head of Education Department

Before the current crisis, we had already been focusing on mental health issues which were exacerbated due to Covid. We know that students had been suffering from increased anxiety and the stresses and strains of growing up in the first quarter of the 21st century. As an organization that is dedicated to educating for life, making sure students are prepared for whatever challenges they face, it became clear that we would need to address their mental health challenges.

Simultaneously, there’s been a huge increase in awareness and knowledge of how to develop resilience and how to deal with and identify mental health problems. Lockdowns during Covid seriously affected the social and emotional development of students. The crisis in Ukraine has made these needs more acute.

Living as refugees, at times with strangers, and being displaced creates increased anxiety. We were hearing about panic attacks, night terrors, and trauma. We knew that we must act. And we were lucky that we had Maryna Zavgorodnya, Vice Principal, ORT Educational Complex #141, Kyiv, who graduated from our leadership development program in 2021. When we held one of our global forums for educators to deal with mental health and well-being, she stood out as a professional in this area who could get things done.

Spearheading the Response: Maryna Zavgorodnya, Vice Principal, ORT Educational Complex #141, Kyiv

Maryna Zavgorodnya

Maryna, who is leading the psychological support response for Ukraine teachers, parents and students, shared that nearly 50 teachers and 40 families responded to a survey expressing their need for services including psychological counselling, and training to help them regulate emotions. Existing programs for these services are limited, often only offering one session. Our community was eager for assistance from ORT, with whom they had built a trusting relationship.

Panic attacks, sleep problems, and nervousness were just a few of the conditions we treated throughout the month of May. Losing relatives and friends, losing homes, constant sirens and other traumatic sounds required intense therapy. We were able to help almost 40 students, teachers, and families – mostly refugees – in 100 individual sessions.

One of our priorities is helping women whose husbands are in hotspots now. It is also important to not let our students feel alone and enable them to share their thoughts and feelings. It is essential for young people to know that they have a place that they can go to receive help or just to talk.

As the new academic year begins, a new initiative will assist teachers with training by specialists from Israeli professionals who have experienced conflict in their own country. The training will help Ukrainian educators learn how to react in new circumstances and how to support students in a time of uncertainty. The program will also expand to include teachers in the Baltic states where refugees from Ukraine have moved.

We know that as families start returning to their homes, they will bring their emotional trauma in tow. We are also caring for the therapists and psychologists; they, too, are experiencing the conflict and we don’t want them to burn out.

The Financial Picture

Over the last three months ORT has raised more than $2 million from supporters all over the world.

Just over $1m has been spent to date. The reserves and current fundraising dollars are now being applied to four key areas:

1. Continued humanitarian aid and emergency supplies, providing food and medicines to those still in Ukraine
2. Individual financial help for students and their families whether at home or abroad
3. Staff training to be able to respond to emergency situations
4. Supplementing teacher salaries

We are also preparing for the fall when schools will re-open to students. Significant funds are required to upgrade our school security with cameras, security guards, fencing, security shelters, and bomb shelters. We will also need to provide for safe transportation to school and invest in laptops, tablets, and IT infrastructure to enable distance learning for those who may not have returned home or can not attend school safely. These additional needs are estimated at $1.5 million.

Ukraine Briefing

Other stories you may find interesting

Israeli Robotics Team Wins Award in Houston

Young JFNA Leaders Visit Kfar Silver

Dan Green Meets Ukrainian Students at Kfar Silver

From Kyiv to Brooklyn