On May 8 to 11, an Education International delegation visited Ukraine’s capital to deliver a strong message of solidarity and meet with colleagues from the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers of Ukraine (TUESWU), EI member organisation in the country. The delegation also met with the Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine, the Mayor of Kyiv, as well as representatives of the Trade Union Federation of Ukraine, UNICEF, and UNESCO.
The Education International delegation was led by David Edwards (EI General Secretary), Larry Flanagan (President of the European Trade Union Committee for Education, EI’s European structure), and Randi Weingarten (President of the American Federation of Teachers and EI Executive Board member).
Union solidarity in action
Georgiy Trukhanov, President of the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers of Ukraine, welcomed the EI delegation to Kyiv and presented the situation of the Ukrainian education sector and the challenges faced by teachers since the start of the full-scale invasion. Trukhanov shared the work of the union in defense of its members and their rights under martial law and thanked education unions across the world for their support which enabled the Ukrainian union to help its members affected by the war, those wounded, and those who lost family members.
The EI delegation and TUESWU also discussed further cooperation in support of Ukrainian educators and education, including strengthening ties with UNESCO and UNICEF for future joint projects in the country. The union also shared its plans for the end of the war, including using the trade union camp to provide much needed psychological assistance for children and teachers affected by the war.
Despite the dire circumstance, TUESWU is determined to continue its mission and will keep doing everything possible to help educators in Ukraine.
Social dialogue to strengthen education
Together with TUESWU colleagues, the EI delegation met with the new Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine, Oksen Lisovyi, who took office in March 2023. The meeting focused on priority issues such as the safety of teachers and students and reforms to strengthen and improve Ukraine’s education system.
The critical role of effective and constructive social dialogue between trade unions and government in a country waging a war of liberation was highlighted, with the EI delegation expressing its full support for colleagues in Ukraine.
Teachers on the frontlines
During his meeting with the EI delegation, the Mayor of Kyiv, Vitalii Klitschko praised the capital’s teachers, noting their courage and dedication. While some teachers went to fight on the frontlines, others stayed behind and continued to work under challenging circumstances in support of their students. They teach from basements and bomb shelters to keep education going and provide children and parents with a sense of normalcy and resilience.
Klitschko explained how education in Ukraine’s capital was taking place under martial law. After the Russian invasion, school continued in a mixed format - face-to-face, online and individual education. Currently 44% of students in Kyiv are studying in person, 47% remotely, and 9% individually. Almost 300,000 students study in Kyiv’s municipal schools. Nearly 70,000 people, including 1,500 internally displaced persons, are employed in the capital’s education system.
The budget of the education sector accounts for 40% of the city's budget and the sector is a top priority for city authorities. Vitalii Klitschko highlighted that teachers’ salaries in Kyiv have been paid on time and in full, with all additional payments and allowances preserved, including the 30% municipal allowance.
In preparation for the new 2022-23 school year, shelters were prepared in educational institutions in the capital as part of the city's Safe Educational Environment program. Only schools with shelters are open for full-time education. The schools that do not have bomb shelters operate online. Today, 97% of municipal schools have shelters. The efforts of the Kyiv authorities are also focused on repairing the 95 educational institutions damaged by the occupiers.
Oleksandr Yatsun, head of the Kyiv branch of TUESWU, presented the work of the organization during the war. From the first days of the invasion, some Kyiv educators have been volunteering, weaving nets for the front, preparing dry rations, and doing everything they could to help Ukrainian defenders on the front line.
AFT President Randi Weingarten reaffirmed educators’ solidarity with Ukraine, stating: “We see our responsibility as not just talking about democracy and talking about the future, but actually helping in any way we can to make that a reality.”
David Edwards expressed his admiration for Ukrainian educators and stressed the importance of cooperation between authorities and education trade unions.
Support from UN agencies
Chiara Dezzi, Head of UNESCO’s Ukraine Desk, also met the EI delegation and presented the UN agency’s efforts to ensure the continuity of teaching and learning for Ukrainian teachers and students. UNESCO provides computer hardware and equipment to support online teaching and learning, develops digital education platforms, and strengthens the psychosocial support and care system for crisis-affected populations.
Both UNESCO and TUESWU have been actively involved in the development of the education system and its reconstruction during and after the war and are open to cooperation to improve the lives of educators and youth in Ukraine.
At the meeting with UNICEF, Murat Shahin, UNICEF Representative in Ukraine, highlighted that his organisation’s main focus is to restore opportunities for young people. UNICEF is creating education support centers for children and youth and is equipping shelters for schools and other children's institutions.
Workers’ rights key to Ukraine’s future
The EI delegation also met with the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FPU) to discuss the current economic situation. Grygorii Osovyi, FPU President, noted that all people in Ukraine are actively working to strengthen the country's defense capabilities and the livelihoods of its citizens.
However, the economic situation is extremely difficult: the minimum wage is frozen, inflation is 27%, unemployment is 26%, and the poverty rate has increased fourfold over the past year, with about 7 million people now living below the poverty line.
Therefore, in negotiations with social partners, trade unions emphasise the need to make changes and create conditions that would give people an incentive to return to Ukraine. Without proper support for workers, without guarantees of decent working conditions, Ukraine will not have the human resources it needs to rebuild.
Hope in the midst of war
The EI delegation visited Save Ukraine, the public organisation that regularly conducts rescue missions to return Ukrainian children abducted by Russian forces. The organisation identifies abducted children, works to return them to Ukraine, documents their cases for national and international courts, and provides physical and psychological support to these children and their families.
Visiting Save Ukraine’s Hope and Healing Centre, Larry Flanagan, ETUCE President, stated: “What struck me most was the sense of hope that we saw in so many young people. Young people were smiling, young people we happy to be in school. There is hope for the future even in the midst of this war. Rebuilding the education system of Ukraine needs more than just Ukrainians. That’s where international support, in terms of financing, in terms of solidarity is absolutely critical”.