VOA Special English
Kherson's Resilience


    Editor's note: This story is one of the winning entries from the "Teach Us about Ukraine" writing contest sponsored by VOA Learning English and GoGlobal.

    FILE - Ukrainians gather in downtown to celebrate the recapturing of their city Kherson, Ukraine, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Yevhenii Zavhorodnii)
    FILE - Ukrainians gather in downtown to celebrate the recapturing of their city Kherson, Ukraine, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Yevhenii Zavhorodnii)

    My name is Larisa Dashevska, and I have been teaching English for 25 years in Kherson, Ukraine.

    Ukraine has had a complex history and faced many challenges. But nothing could have prepared Ukrainians for the ordeal of the Russian occupation of Kherson.

    As a resident of Kherson, I lived through the occupation and witnessed the effect of war on our city, our people, and our way of life.

    The arrival of Russian forces in Kherson marked the beginning of a time of uncertainty and danger. There were daily explosions. The once-familiar streets were now unrecognizable, with craters and debris marring the landscape. The sounds of shelling and gunfire created a miserable backdrop to our daily lives.

    Among the residents of Kherson, there were a lot of people who refused to accept the occupation. In spring 2022 they gathered in groups and took to the streets, waving Ukrainian flags and chanting slogans of freedom - "Kherson is Ukraine!". Despite the fear, brave people knew they had to stand up for their homeland.

    At the beginning of the resistance against the enemy army, I remembered a very brave act of a local resident. The man was filmed climbing directly onto a Russian tank and waving the Ukrainian flag.

    But as the days passed, the situation grew more dangerous. The explosions became more frequent, and the fighting intensified. The occupiers started to prohibit demonstrations and used weapons to break them up.

    As a teacher, I had to help my students deal with the trauma they were experiencing. Our schools, places of learning and personal growth, were now places of uncertainty and fear.

    I was a teacher of 10–11-year-old students with inclusive education and special needs. They needed my presence in their lives. During that period, we had online lessons every day and I made efforts to help them relax, feel less stress, and maintain a positive attitude despite the circumstances. I did this by creating a positive learning environment.

    In spring 2022 our school year was one month shorter to avoid negative consequences. Also, the occupiers prohibited us from using modern platforms for studying and blocked the internet.

    Each encounter with Russian soldiers patrolling our streets was filled with tension and anxiety. Their presence reminded us not only of the loss of freedom but also the stories of brutality throughout the city. It changed our way of life and introduced an element of fear that was impossible to escape.

    As people saw Russian soldiers standing on every street corner and holding their guns, they tried to avoid such meetings. Soldiers looked at locals coldly and as if they owned the city.

    Ukrainian banks ceased to function, leaving us with no access to our savings or financial resources. Ukrainian currency became worthless, and residents could not obtain basic needs. Once-thriving businesses shuttered, and people lost jobs.

    Every visit to the market was a real challenge. Market stalls were filled with Russian goods, and the vendors whispered, as if afraid to say too much. People tried to quickly buy what they needed and hurried home.

    Locals knew they were powerless against the invaders, but the occupiers couldn't break their spirit. Lots of citizens had the hope that one day, they would be free from the oppression of the Russian invaders.

    During the occupation, people could not use modern mobile phones, because the occupiers could stop a person at any moment and start checking the contents and photos on the phone. If they found a photo of a person with national symbols or a Ukrainian embroidery, there were big problems. People were taken for questioning.

    I found an old push-button telephone from my parents and used it throughout the occupation. It was not so scary, because there was no Internet and no social networks, photos and other unnecessary material for the invaders.

    The Russian occupation of Kherson was, without a doubt, the darkest period in my life. But it was also a time that revealed the strength of the Ukrainian people. I watched neighbors come together to support one another and share whatever resources they had, whether it was food, warmth, or words of encouragement.

    In occupied Kherson, many residents found themselves hiding in shelters to stay safe from the fighting and explosions.

    They sat together, shared bread and simple food, surfed the Net and read the latest news of the occupied city and explosions. Despite the hardships they faced, locals knew they were not alone.

    Once, there was a knock on the door of our building shelter. About 20 people were inside. Our hearts pounded with fear. Everyone was silent that moment. Soldiers checked shelters and tried to find partisans. Nobody answered and so they left without entering. We breathed with relief.

    There is one moment I will always remember. It happened just after the deoccupation of the city. When the Russian invaders left our city, they blew up all important public utilities. Local residents were left without electricity and water for more than three weeks.

    The people lived without all modern conveniences, but they were too happy to be rid of the enemy and their rule. Since no one had electricity in the city, some people had generators at home. My neighbor also had a generator and helped people all over the neighborhood charge their mobile phones and power banks. With charged phones, people could call their relatives and at least say a few words about their lives. We could only charge our phones a little once a day. Such nice people saved our lives.

    As a teacher, I was determined to keep the story alive, even in the darkest of times, for the sake of my students and my country.

    I'm Gena Bennett. And I'm Andrew Smith.


    About the teacher

    Larisa Dashevska was born in Kherson, Ukraine. After completing secondary school, she entered Kherson State University and became a teacher of English. She worked 12 years at Kherson State agrarian and economic University. Later she started to work as an English teacher at Kherson comprehensive educational complex. Larisa finds her work rewarding and important.