Canadian soldiers visit local Ukrainian schools in honour of Defenders’ Day

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Article / October 24, 2016

By a JTF-U Medical Technician and instructor

On the occasion of Defender of Ukraine Day, several Lviv area schools invited Canadian soldiers currently deployed to Ukraine on Operation UNIFIER to visit with their students and staff. Upon volunteering to participate in a visit, a colleague and I were assigned to School #98 which teaches approximately 1000 students from Kindergarten to Grade 11.

The Ukrainian staff and students had arranged a full morning of activities for us. We were warmly greeted at the door by female students from the senior class dressed in traditional Ukrainian clothing. After coffee, cake, and introductions, we were led to a Grade 3 classroom where we assisted the children in making beautiful Defenders’ Day crafts for deployed Ukrainian soldiers, decorating flags and making protection dolls.

The students were very happy to have us there and, much like Canadian children, were full of questions; they asked about our jobs and hometowns, our impressions of their beautiful city, and if we enjoyed working with Ukrainian soldiers.

Following a friendly indoor football (soccer) game with the kids, we were whisked away to the auditorium where an assembly was held in our honour. The senior class recited Defenders’ Day poems and sang the Ukrainian national anthem in English. We were taught the chorus of one of their favourite songs and then got to perform it with them on stage. To conclude the assembly, we were presented with beautiful student artwork and a book about Lviv.

To top the morning off, we were invited to share a traditional Ukrainian meal with the staff and students. While dining on borsch and verynyky (pierogies) with a traditional drink that tasted like apple cider, we had the opportunity to discuss the similarities and differences between our two cultures with our hosts.

One of the senior female students who guided us on the tour told me that she was so glad to see a female in the military, and it had cemented her desire to continue studying languages. She expressed how nice it was for her to see a woman in a non-traditional role. At the end of the morning, we parted ways with hugs and promises that we would keep in touch following this wonderful experience.

A common thread that inspired me about the Ukrainians we met at the school was their intense national pride and hope for the future, and their love for the soldiers serving in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.  We were humbled by the gratitude they showed to us, and toward Canada and our mission here. We will not forget the experience we had at School #98; it was a reminder of the strong bonds between Canada and Ukraine, both within the military context and in general.

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