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A Ukrainian refugee is still teaching her students, who are spread around the world


In early March, a couple weeks after the war in Ukraine began, I met a woman named Daria Bietschasna. She had just become a refugee in Poland. And she told me that once she left Ukraine, she came back to the small rural border crossing of Kroscienko, where we met. She wanted to help others fleeing the war.

DARIA BIETSCHASNA: We do what we can because when we crossed the border, we were shocked and don't understand what to do. A lot of people don't know no Polish, no English. In our way, we can help them.

SHAPIRO: Bietschasna is a high school economics teacher. And on that frigid day in the mountains, she told me she planned to continue teaching her students online. Well, two months later, she's kept her promise...

BIETSCHASNA: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: ...Teaching economics to her pupils, who are now spread out all over the world.

BIETSCHASNA: In Australia, in Britain, in U.S.A - a lot in Poland, Germany, France, Belgium or Luxembourg, Georgia, Turkey.

SHAPIRO: And the teacher is in Brittany, France, living in a coastal village by the sea.

BIETSCHASNA: I think near three minutes to get to the ocean.

SHAPIRO: She's with her aunt and cousins, who are 11 and 16.

BIETSCHASNA: They studied before French language, and it's like opportunity for them to study, to improve their French and to see another country because they never go - went anywhere from Dnipro, and it's their first time to be abroad. That's why we have so long traveled by train from Poland to this place.

SHAPIRO: You're describing this like a great opportunity to visit a new country and learn a new language. This is not the way people often talk about fleeing a war.

BIETSCHASNA: All of what we get from life is opportunity.

SHAPIRO: We caught up over Zoom the other day. She was in France. I was in Poland. And Daria Bietschasna told me she has dreamed of seeing Brittany since she was a teenager.

BIETSCHASNA: It was my dream from 16, really. I want to visit different French castles from Alexandre Dumas' stories.


BIETSCHASNA: And now it's realized. As for me, it's terrible and beautiful at once.

SHAPIRO: What was it like to see those French castles for the first time that you dreamed of since you were 16?

BIETSCHASNA: Now I can realize that they're beautiful, that French people take care about them. But when I saw them, I understand that at least Ukraine - in Ukraine, we have in Lviv, in Kyiv, a lot of beautiful castles. They are not better than French as in my dreams.

SHAPIRO: So it made you appreciate your home even more?


SHAPIRO: Wow. You know, when I met you in Kroscienko, I asked where you were going to go. And you answered the question, I hope to go home as soon as I can.

BIETSCHASNA: And now my answer will be the same.


BIETSCHASNA: As soon as I can. But I really can't be in country - in dangerous - and now I am also with my supporters. And also to be nervous - and I'm scared each day and each moment in my city...


BIETSCHASNA: ...Because when I read news on my phone, I really become hysterical.

SHAPIRO: And that's Dnipro, right?

BIETSCHASNA: Yes, it's Dnipro. But in Dnipro and our region are around by Kherson, Zaporizhzhia...


BIETSCHASNA: ...Donetsk, Kharkiv - all these regions are dangerous.

SHAPIRO: Is it difficult for you to enjoy the beauty of this place you've always dreamed of going while you know that these terrible things are also happening back in your home?

BIETSCHASNA: I work a lot with psychology, so understand what beautiful place and people and views around me and that I have a lot of opportunities because before that, I was almost upset. And when I am upset, I can't help my sisters. I can't help myself. I can't help my parents and granny in Dnipro or help my friends. That's why I work by myself to get normal emotions and normal life and be useful for my country.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. So your parents and your granny are still in Dnipro.


SHAPIRO: Are they safe? How are they doing?

BIETSCHASNA: Anybody in Ukraine, they aren't safe. But they're adult people. It's their decision, and my granny is too old to have a long travel. And now is the season of summer falls, and she wants to plant it. And my cousins help her, and it gives her a little emotion. And so I understand that she's also useful, and she can do what she like.

SHAPIRO: So she's planting a garden. She's planting vegetables.

BIETSCHASNA: Not a lot of but some tomatoes, some carrots, some potato, beets.

SHAPIRO: Tell me about your students. You're still teaching them remotely online.


SHAPIRO: How are classes? How is that going in the middle of a war?

BIETSCHASNA: I have a lot of work now because in Ukraine, make their school year shorter. That's why I have a lot of job offers or for taking tasks.

SHAPIRO: And are they able to focus, or are they distracted because a war is happening?

BIETSCHASNA: Now, every student - and I hope each understands that they should study and be better because we all should rebuild our Ukraine. And in another way, it's time not to be concentrated on the - only on war, destroy and assumption as this. They have some task, what they should to do to be better, to be better for themselves, for their country and for their parents. And for me, it's a big motivation for me to get up in the morning and doing my job good, as well as I can and more.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Daria, I'm so glad to talk to you again and so glad that you're doing well and happy and getting to see French castles. And I hope you get to go home soon.


SHAPIRO: Ukrainian economics teacher and refugee Daria Bietschasna speaking with me from a village in Brittany, France.

(SOUNDBITE OF GRIEVES SONG, "NO SLEEP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
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Ayen Bior
Ayen Deng Bior is a producer at NPR's flagship evening news program, All Things Considered. She helps shape the sound of the daily shows by contributing story ideas, writing scripts and cutting tape. Her work at NPR has taken her to Warsaw, Poland, where she heard from refugees displaced by the war in Ukraine. She has spoken to people in Saint-Louis, Senegal, who are grappling with rising seas. Before NPR, Bior wore many hats at the Voice of America's English to Africa service where she worked in radio, television and digital. Bior began her career reporting on the revolution in Sudan, the developing state of affairs in South Sudan and the experiences of women behind the headlines in both countries. In her spare time, Bior loves to kayak, read and bird watch.