The U.S. government, through USAID, provided $12 billion in direct budget support to the Government of Ukraine in 2022, with more assistance planned for 2023. This assistance empowers educators, healthcare workers, and first responders who provide critical services to Ukraine’s citizens. It both meets the immediate needs of citizens and supports Ukraine’s long-term development by investing in public services and promoting social stability. Notably, direct budget support has helped pay the salaries of 618,000 educators who, with bravery and determination, continue preparing Ukraine’s youth to contribute to the country’s post-war recovery. By helping the learning process continue, USAID direct budget support is investing in Ukraine’s future.
“The war made us reassess what is truly important. For me, it is to live, be with your family, be healthy, and have the opportunity to do what you love. Being a teacher – that’s what my whole life is about,” says Olena Bereslavska, a professor at the State Tax University of Ukraine.
Olena understands these challenges more than most. Her workplace, the State Tax University, is located in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin. The Battle for Irpin started in the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, turning what was a quiet community into a battlefield. On February 27, just days after the start of the full-scale war, Ukrainian forces tried to halt Russia’s advance by destroying a bridge connecting Irpin and Russia-occupied Bucha. While this succeeded in delaying Russia’s forces, thousands of Irpin’s residents remained stuck in Irpin under relentless shelling by Russia’s forces. For Olena and her colleagues who remained on the wrong side of the line of contact, this was not the time to continue providing education, it was a matter of survival.
Many university employees lived in its dormitories, alongside their students. When Russia began shelling, these professors and their families, along with the students, hid in a shelter under the university. Later, they were joined by other residents of the city. In total, about 150 people took refuge in the university’s shelter for ten long days, until March 5, when Ukrainian forces evacuated them to Kyiv. The evacuation was not a moment too soon: the next day, Irpin was occupied by Russia, and Russian forces killed more than 300 civilians during the month of March.
The evacuated professors moved to the university’s other location in Storozhynets in the Chernivtsi region of western Ukraine, but the institution was forced to leave its servers, hardware, and paper records behind in the occupied city. As soon as Ukrainian forces liberated Irpin from Russia’s brutal occupation at the end of March, university's employees returned to collect the materials.
What they found was devastating. Russia’s troops had destroyed much of the university campus: burning down the central building and damaging two other key buildings. What remained became a humanitarian center, providing locals with food, medicine, and other basic supplies. Like other residents of Irpin, many university employees no longer had homes to return to, due to the massive shelling and looting by Russian soldiers.
It took University staff only three days after the end of the Battle for Irpin to resume their work, teaching remotely from Storozhynets.
Classes officially started on April 1. For the university’s educators, being able to keep working became an incredible source of inner strength. Olena says “even [for] my colleagues whose homes were looted and burnt down, the ability to return to work gave some optimism.”
Olena Bereslavska and her colleagues from the State Tax University of Ukraine are just some of the country’s 618,000 educators whose resilience and optimism have been sustained in part due to USAID direct budget support to the Government of Ukraine, which, among other things, ensure that teachers, professors, and other educators continue to receive their salaries. Despite all the devastation they have witnessed - and the fact that the university facilities in Irpin are still waiting to be repaired - the teaching staff are able to focus on preparing the next generation of specialists - tax and customs officers, financiers, and lawyers - who will help Ukraine’s Ministry of Finance to restore and maintain fiscal stability after the war ends.