Ukrainian-American teacher says ‘don’t get used to’ war, urges support
Alla Azrilyan came to ARHS in 2019, as a member of the ELL department. She spoke with a member of The Graphic staff about the war in Ukraine, her life as a teacher, and ways we can help.
Laila Chhun: Where did you grow up and what was your experience growing up in Russia or Ukraine?
Alla Azrilyan: I grew up in Donetsk, Ukraine. I went to a Russian-speaking school so Russian is my first language. I had a normal childhood and I loved to play in the woods.
LC: Do you still have family there?
AA: Not any close family. I have some distant cousins and uncles, some are still in Donetsk some in other parts of Ukraine. My great uncle died from Covid in Donetsk. I don’t have a lot of connection to my stepbrother or to a lot of my childhood friends. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to stay connected. I know a lot of my childhood friends are refugees and were able to run away to Europe and other places.
LC: When did you leave Ukraine and did you plan to become a teacher and stay in the U.S.?
AA: When I was 15, I came with my family. We planned to stay here. I had a lot of family here already. After high school, I wanted to become a teacher.
LC: How are you feeling about the Russian attacks on Ukraine?
AA: I feel terrible, devastated, and partially struggle with depression thinking of the Russian community scaring everybody.
LC: How often do you engage with the news and how does it affect you?
AA: I’m trying not to read the news because it’s depressing. My Facebook is filled with very emotionally charged information about the war so I can’t really go there. I see how it’s affecting me. I do volunteer work.
I’m a part of this organization that sends money to volunteers to give aid to people and directly work with them. We create brochures, posts, and newspapers for donations, so I’m exposed to a lot of information which is painful.
There was news the Russian army moved away from attacking the center and capital but they left a lot of aftermath and murders of innocent civilians. We go to more peaceful places with no food, no water, and people are recording videos and pictures. I directly collect and distribute that. It’s useful in helping but really traumatizing.
LC: What are you doing to support people you love or the place you came from?
AA: I’m not doing much for specific people that I know, but instead for people I don’t know. Ukrainetrustchain.org is my friend’s organization. Everybody’s volunteering to start programs and it feels close. We have this connection and it feels like we can help it along.
We are trying to make it efficient for volunteers right now because people need help. Volunteering is helping the most for organizations and spreading the word around Russian-speaking communities.
LC: What are some special parts of Ukraine culture?
AA: It’s such a beautiful culture and language. The music and the food is great, and a lot of Russian food is actually Ukrainian food.
LC: Are you hopeful or worried?
AA: Both. I’m worried about the outcomes of this war. It’s terrible even if this particular episode doesn’t end in Russia taking over Ukraine. It’s still devastating for the country and completely out of control if they keep being aggressive, taking land, and have no regard for human life inside and outside of Russia.
LC: What is it like to try to teach when this is happening in Ukraine?
AA: It’s really great, it’s actually a distraction. I’m happy to be with my wonderful students. Sometimes I feel really depressed, so most times I’m happier here. It’s a great profession and it’s very engaging.
LC: Is there anything else you want to tell students or community members who are reading the school newspaper?
AA: I want to tell people ‘don’t get used to this.’ Organize a fundraiser, sign petitions, don’t just sit here and watch. Help should be spread out more.
Some fundraisers and organizations I support are linked here.