Palliser exchange trip to Ukraine includes surprise visit with soldiers
Every November students across Palliser Regional Schools pay tribute to military personnel who sacrificed so much in the past to allow us the freedoms we enjoy today. A group of Kate Andrews High School students was offered a new perspective on Remembrance Day a little early, and in an unexpected locale.
Five Grade 9 students recently completed the return end of a Palliser international student exchange program in Ukraine. After checking out the host students’ school and visiting the many wonders of the Eastern European country, they received a surprise visit from a group of Canadian soldiers.
Those troops, who are stationed out of Edmonton, were a month into a lengthy mission as part of Operation Unifier. They are part of a contingent of about 200 Canadian Armed Forces members providing training to security forces to allow Ukraine to remain sovereign, secure and stable.
Chaperone Jason Prebushewski says the encounter was more than just a welcomed opportunity for the students – who hosted their visitors last year while they were still going to R.I. Baker Middle School – to converse in their native language after almost two weeks in Ukraine.
“I thought it was a nice tie to Remembrance Day because of the whole sacrifice piece,” says Prebushewski, principal at R.I. Baker. “The kids knew they were missing their families after two weeks, were a little homesick, and these people said we’re here for six months. Can you imagine the sacrifice they are putting in?”
Student Jasmine DeBoer has participated in Remembrance Day ceremonies during her four years as a cadet, but says the visit and discussion with the soldiers about their duties in Ukraine helped bring the message home.
“It was really cool that we got to talk with them and see that Canada is reaching out to other countries and helping them too,” she says.
While they learn about the horrors of the World Wars and the like, Prebushewski says some students today may have a tough time relating to those historical conflicts.
Student Elise Perry agreed.
“It was really cool because mostly we hear about stories about all this stuff that happened way back then. This kind of brought it into perspective. It is like from back then and the war, but it’s modern because they are still fighting for (peace),” she says.
The fact they had a shared experience with the soldiers also helped, says Isabella Jackson.
“I relate to them more, I guess, because I was in the Ukraine too,” she says.
Rylie Slobodan and schoolmate Ella Kasko say they enjoyed talking with the soldiers about military life and then sharing with them the students’ experiences during their visit to L’viv, Kiev and other Ukrainian communities.
The soldiers also brought with them poppy pins to hand out and spoke about Remembrance Day to the Coaldale students as well as their hosts from Ukraine. While the poppies memorialized in the poem “In Flanders Fields” are synonymous with Nov. 11 for Canadian students, the significance had to be explained to their hosts.
“We’re over there learning about the Ukrainian culture and the way they do things, so I think it was a rare opportunity for us to share something pretty important about what we celebrate and what we honour in our country,” says Prebushewski.
The student whose family he stayed with said he’d proudly wear the poppy to school and Prebushewski hopes he will further spread the message.
With no classes scheduled for Remembrance Day Nov. 11, many Palliser schools will mark the day later this week.