AFT’s Weingarten, Dr. Irwin Redlener to Visit Ukraine to Meet with Students and Teachers Displaced by Russia’s War
LVIV, Ukraine—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten will meet this week with Ukrainian students and teachers displaced by Russia’s invasion, to offer solidarity and support in the face of relentless attacks that have forced hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee the country’s east.
Weingarten will join pediatrician and public health activist Dr. Irwin Redlener, Karen Redlener and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum to donate school supplies and deliver assistance to Ukrainian teachers in the west of the country who have taken in thousands of internally displaced children learning in challenging conditions far from home.
The AFT was invited by the Ukrainian teachers union, the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers, to bear witness and call attention to the effects on children, families and educators and the impact of Russia’s attacks on democracy and democratic institutions.
Weingarten and the Redleners will distribute children’s books and other educational materials at school visits in Lviv on Tuesday, Oct. 11. On Wednesday, Oct. 12, they will meet with refugee teachers in Drohobych and Truskavets to shine a light on Vladimir Putin’s attempt to impose autocracy on Ukraine by targeting schools and civilians.
*U.S. and foreign press interested in connecting with Weingarten and the AFT on the ground in Lviv can email firstname.lastname@example.org.*
“As Putin tries to take a blowtorch to democracy, we stand in solidarity with the educators, students and families in Ukraine,” said Weingarten. “They are fighting against Russian aggression to uphold their democracy, their freedom and their self-determination—and after nearly eight months of conflict their righteous resistance grows stronger each day.”
“The war’s effect on kids and families has been brutal, and the Ukrainian teachers’ persistence, compassion and bravery in helping students continue their learning in an active war zone should be lifted up and championed.”
The Russian ground invasion and incessant shelling have caused the largest forced migration of civilians in Europe since World War II, with more than 12 million Ukrainians evacuated to safety in western Ukraine or outside the country. Hundreds of children have died, and millions have been psychologically traumatized. More than 250 schools have been destroyed in Ukraine, with 2,400 suffering damage. Around 3,500 schools are operating online only, amid ongoing safety concerns.
Dr. Irwin Redlener said: “The children of Ukraine have become the latest ‘war generation,’ impacted by a brutal war they never asked for. Prolonged educational disruption and persistent psychological trauma may really impair the ability of many children to fulfill their potential. That’s bad news for Ukraine’s future.”
The Redleners have co-founded the Ukraine Children’s Action Project, a new initiative designed to provide urgent mental health and educational support to Ukrainian children who are either refugees in Poland or internally displaced in their own country—all fleeing a humanitarian crisis and barbaric war. The union and the Redleners are also developing an online training for teachers to help them manage children with severe psychological trauma.
The AFT has a long history of offering ongoing support and solidarity to its sister unions in the region. Weingarten last visited the region in April to meet with Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw and teachers in Medyka, on the Poland-Ukraine border. In July, 15 AFT educators from across the country representing 11 affiliates embarked on a two-week journey to provide on-the-ground educational support to Ukrainian and Polish students. This year, the AFT has raised $100,000 from the union’s relief fund that is being distributed across the two countries.
The AFT was invited by TUESWU as part of the global labor movement’s commitment to assist the region’s educators in standing up for freedom and democracy while keeping refugee kids learning in perilous times.
On Friday, Oct. 14, Weingarten will address educators in Warsaw rallying for Polish Teachers Day.
The delegation will report its findings to representatives of the global union movement, the AFL-CIO and the State Department. The AFT and TUESWU are members of the Global Union Federation Education International.
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The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.