Student exchange cancelled amidst ongoing Ukrainian conflict
Civil unrest in Ukraine is jeopardizing the future of a 20-year student exchange program between the Greater Saskatoon Catholic School Board and the Ukrainian Ministry of Education.
Scheduled to travel to Ukraine for three weeks, seven students and parents were notified last week that the bi-annual student exchange would be cancelled for 2014 because of the growing tensions between Ukraine and Russia.
Laurianne Gabruch is a teacher at Bethlehem High School and has been organizing this trip since 1996.
“The plug was pulled last Tuesday (Feb. 25) and the decision came from the director of education Greg Chatlain, because of the instability and volatility of the situation in Ukraine, it would be in the best interest of the students not to travel,” Gabruch said Tuesday. “You never know how far it could end up going I guess.”
The news was earth-shattering for top students enrolled in the Ukrainian Studies program at Bethlehem High School. Gabruch said students are first exposed to this student-exchange as early as elementary school, when past Ukrainian exchange students visit them during their time in Saskatoon. She said that’s a big reason why students sign up for the Ukrainian Studies program.
“It’s most definitely a highlight for the students,” she said. “Of course there was disappointment both on behalf of parents and students -- it probably hit the students the hardest because they really had their hearts set on making the trip.”
Although the exchange is based in Chernitvsi, about 1,000 km northwest of Crimea where the Russian occupation of Ukraine originated from, Gabruch said the school board didn’t want to risk putting any student or teacher in danger. On the other hand, the school board is hoping to bring the Ukrainian exchange students to Canada this fall, if possible.
The trip was planned for April 14 to May 3 and according to Gabruch, cancelling the trip when they did will save them money down the road as they only had a portion of the flights covered, plus travel insurance.
And even though the conflict has no expiry date, the school board feels once the conflicts are over, Saskatoon and Ukraine could resume their partnership.
The 2014 trip would have also seen a first for the exchange program, Gabruch said.
“We wouldn’t be spending so much time in Chernitvsi as we have in the past. The group of students would be located in a school on the edge of Lviv,” she said, adding part of the trip would include areas closer to the Hungarian-Romanian border, into the Carpathian Mountains.
Gabruch said she’s speaking with teachers in Ukraine almost daily and she’s following her Ukrainian friends on Facebook, sharing as much information as she can.
“Lots of my heart and my mind is on the situation going on,” Gabruch said. “There’s huge disappointment that this situation is happening in Ukraine right now.”
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