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'It's a really big eye opener' | History unfolds in front of Moline high schoolers' eyes

Moline High School students Zoomed with a woman living in Ukraine and during the call, two explosions went off five blocks from her home in Odesa.

MOLINE, Ill. — Moline High School students got a front-row seat to history on Monday afternoon, May 9. The school, along with the history club, hosted a lecture and roundtable discussion about the war in Ukraine.

Dr. Cecilia Rokusek, CEO and president of the Smithsonian affiliate National Czech and Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids, led the discussion. A woman named Darya, who's currently living in Odesa, Ukraine, joined the students via Zoom.

Darya chose to stay in Ukraine to help people, including helping Ukrainian students get into Slovak universities for the fall semester.

"We talk twice a day, and sometimes more," Rokusek said. "She tries not to tell me everything because I get worried."

Moline students were able to ask Darya questions about her experiences in Ukraine and how the war is impacting her. While she was answering the first question, Darya paused because the air raid sirens were going off.

"I have to go to a place where I'm safer," she said. "Just a second."

A few minutes later, she found out there had been two explosions, just five blocks from her house.

"I was terrified for her," sophomore Alice Adkins said. "I kind of wanted her to just end the call and get to somewhere safe as soon as she could."

May 9 is known as Victory Day in Russia, a national holiday commemorating the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.

"It was a day that everyone in Ukraine was fearful of because they didn't know what would happen with the Russian attack," Rokusek said. "This was an insightful day to be here on May 9, and unfortunately, we were witnessing some of the horrific actions being taken by the Russians in Ukraine at that time live."

Sophomore Addison Cook-Givvs said it was interesting to learn about the war from someone who's living through it.

"I think I just felt so separated from this whole thing because it's Eastern Europe, I mean, we're America, that's so far away from us," Cook-Givvs said. "It really showed me that we're involved too. It's important to us. It's hard to really feel what it is like for them there, and I think it was really eye-opening for us."

Eye-opening is how several other students described it. 

"Hearing the bombings, like that was kind of insane and kind of like a huge shock," sophomore Jolie Martinez said. "It was a real kind of eye-opener. I don't want to say my favorite thing, but it was just something that I think needed to be seen."

Students also said listening to Darya made them realize how real the war is, and how difficult it is for people living in Ukraine.

"The fact that they said that it took them three days to go 15 miles, I think that was like a really big thing," sophomore Jathin Kollarapu said. "You think, 'Oh, we're in the modern age,' where you don't really expect anything bad. But you look at it, and you realize there's still a lot of things from past years that we have not learned from and it's still going on, it's still really bad."

Rokusek emphasized why it's important to learn from history and how the Russian invasion of Ukraine is just another instance of history repeating itself.

"Look what happened during the Holocaust, look what happened in 1968 when the Soviets invaded the Czech and Slovak republics," she said. "Again in 1956, when the Soviets invaded Hungary, we had those atrocities, so it seems like this keeps happening, and we have to ask ourselves why."

She encouraged the students to stay involved and keep up to date about what's happening in Ukraine.

"And not just thinking it's something happening over there, because it's going to keep happening until we have the leaders in our future generation to be here to preserve freedom and democracy and not let people get killed in that quest to be free and democratic."

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