Skip to main content

News

Letters from Vyshneve: How the Russian Invasion of Ukraine Found Its Way to Buri Buri Elementary
Posted 3/23/22

Kerry Cianciarulo, a first-grade teacher at Buri Buri Elementary School, has organized a Go Fund Me page for a Ukrainian war refugee, a friend whom she has known for more than 20 years:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/olena-against-putin

“I am astounded by the compassion, help, and solidarity of people,” said Cianciarulo. 

According to Cianciarulo, she first met Olena Didkivoskyi-Sarapolova when they were both working as waitresses at the Beach Chalet restaurant in San Francisco.

Olena was a student at San Francisco State University. After graduating, Olena moved to Hawaii, became a U.S. citizen, and eventually returned to Ukraine.

Olena Didkivoskyi-Sarapolova recently touched down in Los Angeles with her children on March 9 after fleeing Ukraine, leaving her grandmother and husband behind.There, she married, had four children, and opened a school called Bumble Bee House in Vyshneve, which lies about 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) south of the Ukrainian capital Kiev.

In January 2022, Olena contacted Kerry with the idea of organizing video pen pal messages between students enrolled at Bumble Bee House and Cianciarulo’s class of first graders

It seemed like a good way to stay in touch, while establishing the beginnings of a cultural exchange.

Ukrainian residential building hit by Russian bombsThen Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
“The day before the war started, I received word that our pen pal letters should be arriving from Olena,” said Cianciarulo. “I picked them up from the post office on March 3.”  

As a teacher, Cianciarulo has allowed her first graders to lead discussions about the invasion as a way to help them process the things happening to their Ukrainian pen pals. 

Cianciarulo said some of the observations her first graders have made about the invasion have brought her to the brink of tears, but she has also used the opportunity to remind her students that, “We grow into the people we practice to be.”

Now Cianciarulo is urging her community to help Olena, who recently touched down in Los Angeles with her children on March 9 after fleeing Ukraine, leaving her grandmother and husband behind. 

“She’s my friend,” Cianciarulo said. “How could I not help my friend who’s being bombed? This is just so overwhelmingly sad and frightening.”