You Can Help Children and Teachers in Ukrainian Schools

What kind of hardships do children in other parts of the world have to endure to get an education? If you have roots in the Germans from Russia heritage, or if you are planning to join the NDSU Libraries-sponsored tours, or even if you are just interested in what life is really like in southern Ukraine after the Soviet breakup, read on and learn about a story that will touch your heart.

Dear Friends,

During my recent travels to Odessa and the former German villages in southern Ukraine to prepare for the tours in June, I observed the lack of basic amenities for everyday living and education. Shortages are severe. Due to the lack of heating fuel, and unpaid salaries for public universities and neighborhood schools, classes were canceled from mid-December until March 1, 1996. This scenario has been common throughout Eastern Europe in recent years.

When I stayed overnight at the home of the Pavel Pratchuck family in Novosamarka, Ukraine, Pavel mentioned to me that most crime resulted from desperation and acute need. The Pratchucks live in the former German village of Sofiental near the Glückstal villages in Moldova. Pratchuck, of Ukrainian ancestry, is the community sheriff and a young regional historian intrigued with the historic German villages. His wife is a science teacher.

After visiting with Pavel, his family, other people in the former German villages, and colleagues in Odessa, I feel the most valuable gifts the German-Russian community and Americans can bring to southern Ukraine will be supplies for the children and older students in the village schools. On Monday morning, December 11, Pavel and I walked 15 minutes to the Novosomaka school. The temperature was 0-10 degrees. There was no heat. Electricity is rationed during the day. The elementary and high school students wore heavy coats and gloves during class sessions as they prepared to hear me speak about the Germans from Russia on the Dakota prairies.

I was impressed with the questions they asked and with their desire to learn in spite of such difficult conditions. Visiting four classrooms, I saw a desperate need for basic school supplies. When I met with the principal and teachers, they expressed frustration at finding ways to be creative with a drastic lack of school resources such as pencils, crayons, and pens.

Textbooks and atlases are outdated and the library has no books in English about America. Visual aids are beyond common understanding, only dreams. Few, if any, current geography maps are available--only tattered, faded charts from the Communist period. No photographic reproductions of cultural "art masters" paintings and architecture are available for the students' and their families' visual enrichment. Cultural illustrated history and geography books are lacking.

Young children play with their precious pieces of broken toys. Many have not seen a complete assembled toy. Rubber bouncing balls and bright colored vinyl balls would bring special delight to each individual child. Illustrated children's books with brightly printed colors are highly valued. Illustrated books, such as the Illustrated Bible, are eagerly enjoyed by adults and seniors. Any story book with color illustrations would be cherished by students and their families.

How will we coordinate and bring the needed school supplies to Odessa in June, 1996? We are asking participants in the NDSU Libraries sponsored tours, Journey to the Homeland: Germany and Ukraine, to bring with them a second piece of luggage filled with school supplies when they arrive at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on June 8 for Tour Group I and June 17 for Tour Group II. Tour group members who are in close proximity will gather school supplies from donors and prepare boxes for shipment when they travel to Odessa in June. The boxes will be delivered to the hotel in Odessa for later distribution to schools in Odessa and in the former German villages.

For all of us "gift-givers" to accurately respond in partnership to their needs and basic requests, we suggest the following list for your consideration:

  • Atlases, maps, and charts.
  • Tablets, pencils, erasers, pens, markers, crayons, chalk and erasers, tape, pencil sharpeners, scissors, construction paper, water color sets with brushes, and rubber stamps with ink pads.
  • Games and puzzles such as tinker toys, ball and jack sets, pick-up sticks, cards, and card games.
  • Addresses of long-term pen pals for letter writing.
Reliable contacts have been made in Odessa and the villages to assure that the school supplies reach the children and their teachers. The children, teachers, and families expressed deep appreciation of the anticipated project of bringing school supplies to Odessa in June.

I shall never forget the moments before Christmas when I visited the children of the Novosamarka school. I felt I was helping St. Nicholas delivering needed pencils and pens. I felt sad, especially when I did not have enough pens and pencils for each child. Their eyes glowed as they began to write with a new pen or pencil. The young children, students, the teachers, and my good friend, Pavel Pratchuk, of Novosamarka, and I will never forget the warmth and love we shared.

As Pavel and I left the Novosamarka school, I told him about my vision to help his village school. Pavel expressed his thoughts about this wonderful idea. He assured me that what I experienced on a chilly December morning could be witnessed in many of the neighboring villages and throughout The Ukraine when the Americans come to visit the homeland of their forefathers.

In June, many of the tour group members will travel to Novosamarka on their way to the former Glückstal villages. They will share with the people of Novosamarka their Ukrainian foods and folklore during a program at the school. Our gift to the community and to the school will be valuable supplies as they begin their new school year in September.

Watch for sale items at your local K-Mart, Osco, Target, or Wal-Mart or discount store. Check to see if you have spare pens, pencils, crayons, tape, or writing pads in your home. Local businesses sometimes provide complimentary pens and pencils we can take along to Odessa.

Thank you for your interest and efforts in this endeavor.


Michael M. Miller

P.S. Send school supplies to "Helping the Children," c/o Michael M. Miller, NDSU Libraries, PO Box 5599, Fargo, ND 58105-5599. If you prefer, a monetary donation may be sent to the above address. Make check payable to Journey to the Homeland.

For further information, contact

Michael M. Miller, Tour Director
Journey to the Homeland: Germany and Ukraine
Tel: 701-231-8416
Fax: 701-231-7138

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller