PARMA, Ohio – As they watch a war unfold in their home country, young Ukrainian Americans are holding onto hope and their heritage.
Across the country, children of the Ukrainian diaspora often attend Ukrainian community schools on Saturdays to learn the language and history of their ancestors. Amid Russia’s invasion, these schools have taken on a greater responsibility: teaching students to cope, make sense of the war and understand the importance of who they are.
"You feel even more patriotic now with everything that’s going on, and we understand the history of it," said 11th-grade student Tanya Lishchynska.
At the Taras Shevchenko School of Ukrainian Studies in Parma, Ohio, students told Fox News the war has hit close to home.
"I’ll be at school, and I’m texting my grandma the entire time. It’s been hard because they [family in Ukraine] tell me something bad happened, and I just break down at school," said 11th-grade student Polina Kornyushenko. "My mom, my dad and my brothers, they’re all here – everyone else is over there."
The school was founded in 1955 as part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of St. Vladimir. Now, the program offers classes in language, literature, history and geography to students from pre-K to the 11th grade.
"A lot of times, we come here, and it’s fun, but when the war first started, it was different, there was tension all around. Most of us have family in Ukraine, and we’re worried about them," said 11th-grade student Mykola Logvynyuk. "Our friends here, they know what’s going on, and we’re able to talk about it every Saturday – it’s a topic that doesn’t really go away."
With their families in Ukraine under attack, students at the Shevchenko School said they are grateful for the support from their fellow Ukrainians in Ohio.
The city of Parma, just outside of Cleveland, is at the heart of Ohio’s Ukrainian community. There are more than 20,000 people of Ukrainian descent in the greater Cleveland area, with nearly 50,000 Ukrainians around the state, according to the U.S. Census. Ohio is one of the largest Ukrainian population centers outside of the East Coast.
"Through the diaspora, it creates sort of an uncrushable people, despite whatever happens in the homeland, you always have the community here," said 11th-grade student Yuriy Kmiltek. "The turnout from the Ukrainian community, especially the youth, has been big. Whether it’s humanitarian aid or sending donations – it reaches people."
Through the pain, students at the Shevchenko School have mobilized to send medical supplies to Ukraine, raise funds and protest Russia’s aggression. At the same time, they have formed a strong bond with their culture, which feels more urgent than ever for some.
"They came here when they were as young as 3, 4, 5, and they’ve grown up in front of us," said Volodymyr Bodnar, principal of the Shevchenko School and chairman of the Ukrainian American Educational Council. "This school system is so important for our people, because in the past, in Soviet times, the diaspora helped keep Ukrainian culture alive, and it looks like we still need to continue that."
Bodnar tells Fox News there are about 40 Ukrainian school programs across the country. He expects the schools to play a big role when Ukrainian refugees with school-aged children start to resettle in the United States.