AFT’s Weingarten Visits Poland-Ukraine Border to Meet with Teachers, Children Displaced by Putin’s War
WARSAW, Poland—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten will meet with Ukrainian students and teachers displaced by Russia’s invasion Monday to offer solidarity and support and highlight the desperate situation faced by child refugees fleeing the conflict zone.
Weingarten will visit Polish classrooms that have taken in students from Ukraine, donate supplies, and offer support for Ukrainian and Polish teachers who are keeping refugee kids learning. In many cases, Ukrainian refugee teachers in Poland are continuing to connect remotely with their students, who either remain in Ukraine or are living in Warsaw and elsewhere throughout Europe.
The AFT was invited by the Polish teachers union, ZNP, as part of the global labor movement’s commitment to assist the region’s educators. The AFT has raised $100,000 from the union’s relief fund to send to ZNP, the Ukrainian teachers union VPONU, and other humanitarian and labor groups. The monetary donation, children’s books contributed by First Book and other educational materials will be delivered at school visits Monday led by ZNP.
On Tuesday, April 5, Weingarten will visit the town of Medyka on the Poland-Ukraine border.
“We stand in solidarity with our fellow educators and healthcare workers in the Ukrainian and Polish labor movement; with the educators, students and families across the border in Ukraine; and with their democratic government in this moment of their trial and need,” said Weingarten.
“Our visit will shine a light, not only on the impact of Putin’s war, but on the persistence, compassion and bravery of the teachers dedicated to protecting and helping their kids learn amid Russia’s heinous attack, wherever they might be in the region.”
ZNP has turned its conference center into a home for more than 100 Ukrainian orphans and unaccompanied children and converted its offices into temporary residences for women and children. Teachers in Poland, Germany, Romania and Slovakia are preparing to integrate refugee children into their school systems, implementing a dual-language model used to educate students fleeing the war in Syria. According to the United Nations, nearly every second since the atrocities began, a Ukrainian child has become a refugee.
“Because of our members’ generosity, we’re able to deliver support for Ukrainian and Polish teachers who are keeping kids learning, and share books and supplies with kids who have been driven out of their homes,” Weingarten added. “This isn’t the totality of the help we will offer Ukraine in the weeks and months ahead, but it is one way we can start.”
The AFT will report its findings to representatives of the global union movement, the AFL-CIO and the State Department. The AFT, ZPN and VPONU are members of the Global Union Federation Education International.
Weingarten last visited the region with other labor leaders in 2014, after the AFT contributed to the rebuilding of VPONU’s headquarters leveled in that year’s riots. The union has a long history of contributing to international relief efforts, including in Afghanistan when teachers were targeted by the Taliban and in Haiti for healthcare workers after the 2010 earthquake.
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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.