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Muskegon teacher brings the voices of Ukrainian students to Southwest Michigan

Bob Wood, a retired teacher from Muskegon,  stands with eleven students in a classroom at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv.
Bob Wood
Bob Wood
Former Muskegon high school teacher, Bob Wood, is surrounded by some of the students he taught at the Ukrainian Catholic University last fall. Wood interviewed the students for his video presentation "A Conversation with Ukraine."

Bob Wood spent part of the fall in Ukraine. He'll talk about his experiences Thursday at the Kalamazoo Public Library.

Bob Wood says he was compelled to go to Ukraine for five weeks last fall to be of use.

“I’m always involved in things in the world, and so, I said I gotta go," the Kalamazoo native and retired Muskegon high school teacher told WMUK.

Without hotel reservations or much of a plan, Wood flew to Kraków, Poland in September. He took a seven-hour bus ride to Ukraine where he did whatever he could to be of use, from weaving camouflage nets to transferring supplies. Then he met an English professor from the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. She convinced him that teaching for a week was of use.

“The second day, we had an air raid, and we went down into the basement. And, and - you know, I thought we were just going to wait out the air raid - and those kids just zoomed, circled right up around me and we just kept the lesson going.”

Inspired, Wood reached out to friends in Michigan through social media to find out what Michiganders want to know about the war and life in Ukraine. He said he got 30 great questions to ask the Ukrainians he met during his stay.

“My whole point in doing these presentations is to put these kids, and the other people I know, in front of Americans,” said Wood.

Wood is sharing his students’ video-recorded answers in presentations at various locations in Southwest Michigan. His next stop is at the Kalamazoo Public Library. On Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m., Ukrainian students like Anhelina will speak for themselves through Wood's program, “A Conversation with Ukraine.”

A black and yellow event flyer for a Ukrainian presentation at the library
Bob Wood
Event flyer for "A Conversation with Ukraine" with Bob Wood at the Kalamazoo Public Library on Jan. 12.

“Question number eight, do you feel safe, if not, what would help you feel safe? I do not feel safe, people in occupation do not feel safe,” said 17-year-old Anhelina.

While Anhelina is relatively safe at school in Lviv, her family in southeast Ukraine is living under Russian occupation. Anhelina said the Russians “see our people as those are animals.” She cries in the video.

“What would help me feel safe is if Russia didn't exist, that would be nice,” Anhelina said, adding later that if only “we could live freely and just exist, that's all.”

“A Conversation with Ukraine” will be at the Saugatuck Brewing Company on Jan. 23 and at the Muskegon Public Library on Jan. 26. The videos are available on YouTube.

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.