In the summer of 2021, Marco Franco from Laredo traveled to Ukraine with his wife to attend the wedding of his son, who married a young Ukrainian.
On this trip, Franco met his daughter-in-law’s family and befriended several people, including Mariya Serheiva – an elementary school teacher – in the town of Myslova. Serheiva was the bridesmaid at her son’s wedding.
Since then, Franco has kept in touch with his friends in Ukraine, particularly Serheiva, or “Mariika” as she is affectionately known.
News of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February worried Franco and his family. His son and daughter-in-law were living in Laredo at the time, but they never stopped worrying about his daughter-in-law’s family and the friends they made during their trip.
Franco learned from Mariika that she was returning to her job as a fourth grade teacher six months after the Russian invasion began.
“During this period, air raid shelters were built to protect children in case Russia launched drone or rocket attacks on the school,” Franco said.
Franco said that he has been sending help to his friends in Ukraine for a long time and asked Mariika to send him stories about how the war has changed their lives, the conditions in which they survive on a daily basis and the impact of the war on the families.
“That’s how I found out that Mariika is always in the care of her parents and that she has a brother who is fighting on the war front for his country’s freedom and sovereignty,” Franco said. “I also learned that power outages are more frequent due to the strategy of Putin, who has long focused his attacks on essential infrastructure such as waterworks and electricity, in order to undermine civilian morale.”
life during the war
A year after the start of the war, Mariika sends Franco a text in which she reflects on her experiences during that time.
“Almost a year has passed since the start of the full-scale invasion of the territory of Ukraine,” she wrote. “So much has happened in that time. From the first days we didn’t believe and didn’t understand why we and our country were being targeted. And since then we have only strived for our victory!”
Mariika said that they can already distinguish the sounds of the various airplanes flying across their city’s skies.
“We are also used to long airstrikes – which can last more than six hours – and missile strikes,” she said. “We have learned to distinguish a fighter jet, a cargo plane, a helicopter or a missile by the noise above our heads.”
Back to school
Mariika said her plan for the academic year is a bit difficult as everything is uncertain.
“The summer passed more or less quietly. We were preparing for the new school year and didn’t know how we were going to learn: whether in person at school or remotely on the computer at home,” she said. “In case of air raids, shelters for children have been prepared. Everything was uncertain. But we ended up coming back to school.”
Mariika said that she finally met with her students six months after the war began because they had not seen each other since the attacks began.
“Together with the children, we began to return to our usual life,” she said. “As teachers we try to do everything we can to make the children feel less that there is a war going on. We support them and do everything to ensure that they get an education. But the large-scale missile attack on October 10, 2022 forced us to make adjustments.”
Mariika said they had power supply problems after that rocket attack in October.
“The blackouts have started,” she said. “Initially these outages lasted only four hours a day, but subsequent missile attacks damaged our power system and the outages became more frequent. Then it so happened that there was no electricity for six hours, and even for two days. When the power came back we did whatever it took to charge our phones, cook dinner and clean the house. We learned everything in a short time, and with electricity it was two hours at a time.”
Mariika said that the lack of electricity didn’t affect education much as long as they had chalk and a blackboard in their arsenal.
“In spite of everything, my colleagues and I have carried out various activities for children in such a situation,” she said. “We have prepared interesting entertainment for you. And even when we held an event for St. Nicholas Day, we turned off the lights, but the holiday still took place. We stop at nothing.”
For them, too, the Christmas and New Year holidays were not without adventure.
“Our ‘neighbors’ (in Russia) wanted us to celebrate these days without electricity, but our military did everything and more to prevent this,” she said. “We are all very grateful to them for that. Every day we ask for God’s blessing and the strength to finally defeat the enemy.”
On February 10, another strike hit her community.
“The electricity situation has been unstable since the beginning of the new semester,” she said. “Although we had blackout schedules, there were times when there was no power even off schedule. Although everything was somewhat stabilized, the rocket that hit on February 10 forced us to make adjustments again. Now there are some power issues in the northern part of my area, but we are fine.”
Celebrate their heroes
Mariika said they continue to volunteer and help prepare treats for their military whenever possible.
“My friend Yulia and I are currently preparing a reconnaissance lesson dedicated to the anniversary of our invincibility,” she said. “We are a strong and indomitable people. Nothing and nobody will take away our will and belief in the future. honor of Ukraine. Glory to the heroes. glory of the nation. Ukraine especially.”
Franco said three things about Mariika’s stories impressed him the most:
“The first is their extraordinary ability to adapt to the changes imposed by the war, such as frequent power outages, lack of food,” said Franco, “the second is their strength and unswerving fighting spirit to support the Ukrainian soldiers, not In addition to collecting groceries and essentials, she also cooks and volunteers in her community. And finally, they show their students courage and resilience every time they hear the sound of a plane laden with bombs, or the sound of missiles and drones every time they are bombed.”
Broaden the view
Franco said that Laredoans should broaden their vision and horizons regarding what is happening in the rest of the world.
“A lot of people I know think that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is something alien, distant and distant, but they didn’t realize the impact this war had on the world or how it affected us here in Laredo,” Franco said. “As a high school teacher, I worry that kids are spending too much time on their phones, preventing them from seeing reality. They are immersed in a virtual reality that is completely different from the reality experienced by other young people who have put their phones aside to look up and face the real world.”
Franco took part in a flea market in the park of the Church of Divine Mercy on Saturday to raise funds for the victims of the war. And despite the completion of the sale, funds can still be raised.
“People who want to help Mariika to buy basic teaching materials for her students and to support her family and friends can also send their donations through the PayPal account: [email protected]”