CHARLESTON, W.VA. – Several students in West Virginia participated in a real-world learning experience as they recently talked to a family fleeing the war in Ukraine. West Virginia Schools for Diversion and Transition (WVSDT) Coordinator Kari Rice arranged for several students at locations across the state to join an online Microsoft Teams call with her brother, Dr. Justin Grize, who lives in Krakow, Poland, and is providing refuge for a Ukrainian family.

Born to a military family, Rice and Grize have lived around the world. When the war began to drive Ukrainians from their homes, both knew they needed to do something. Grize and his roommate, Adam Bakun, enrolled in a program that matches refugees with people in Poland for housing, shelter, food and safety. Their trip to the town hall began a process that ended with Alona Buznitskaya and her elderly mother and uncle gathering what remained of their belongings and taking up residence with them.

Buznitskaya, a Ukrainian actress with 35,000 followers on social media, agreed to share her family’s story with the West Virginia students. Her family traveled from Kyiv three weeks ago. The 500-mile journey, that under normal circumstances would have been a day’s travel, took five days as millions of refugees fled to Poland.

The purpose of the lesson was to give the students access to a learning opportunity they otherwise would not have. Prior to the video chat, the students learned about the Cold War, European geography, and foreign languages. After much study, they found themselves face-to-face with a witness to historical events.

“This is a living history lesson that the students will never forget,” said WVSDT Superintendent Jacob Green. “Current events literally came alive when they spoke to Alona who has witnessed the war first-hand and had to escape a terrifying situation with her family. They have learned more during this experience than we could ever convey through a textbook.”

“Our children are seeing what is happening in Ukraine to the tens of millions of people who lived there,” said Rice. “From a practical standpoint, this lesson encompassed culture, history, geography politics, science, math – all of the academic content areas. But most importantly, it helped our children to understand that real people and even children like themselves are fleeing for their lives. Additionally, even during a very terrible situation, there are still examples of courage, compassion, and humanity.”

The identity of the students has been blurred out, however, the question and answer session can be readily viewed on the WVDE YouTube channel.

For media inquiries, contact Christy Day, West Virginia Department of Education Office of Communications, at 304-558-2699 or

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