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Ukraine One Year Later: "The Making of Tenderness" and Student Poems

Posted on February 22, 2023

Photo by Michèle C., licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

What is it like to live through war? Going through her days in Ukraine's capital, buying a hairbrush manufactured in another Ukrainian city under siege, the poet Lyuba Yakimchuk wonders:

and where do they make this tenderness
as the war rages on around them?
in the metro? in the bomb shelter?
in a factory?

Entitled "The Making of Tenderness," Yakimchuk's poem gives readers a sense of what happens to daily life in wartime, and of the ways in which people try to help each other to remain hopeful. The store clerk reassures the narrator, "We'll get it back!" referring both to a grocery product and an occupied city, and whether or not she "knows all about geopolitics," the attempt to comfort is in itself comforting.

You can access the full poem, a recording of the author reading it in the original Ukrainian, and a Ukrainian-language version on

One year ago, on the eve of the war in Ukraine, English teacher Ann Neary looked for ways to help her students understand the situation and respond through writing. She wrote:

As I watched the invasion of Ukraine with horror last weekend, I was reminded of my core philosophy that grounds my teaching: the way we treat young people today reflects how we want our future to be. In addition to this philosophy, I also recognized how little I knew of Ukrainian literature. So, I searched for a way to incorporate my core philosophy, while helping my students (and myself) learn more about Ukrainian literature.
Coming to my go-to source, Words Without Borders Campus, I found exactly what I needed to share poetry, stories and children’s folktales across all the classes I teach. Students and I spent a week learning from the news, from the literature and from each other, and then we created responses. Some students wrote reverse poems, where if read top to bottom the poem has one message and if read bottom to top, has the opposite. This appealed to their understanding of opposing forces at work in the world. Others used the words from the literature to write found poems. All wrote with the intent of showing compassion and support to the people of Ukraine.
I always tell students the reason we read literature, and especially literature from around the world, is so that we might understand the breadth of human experience and acknowledge the similarities across all of humanity. We must ensure young people are infused with the compassion and the skills to make the world a better place. Creating environments where they are able to grow and step into a change-making mindset is vital.

To give just one sample from the students' remarkable poems:

This is the truth,
Ukraine cannot stand alone. . .

Want to help students create their own poems for Ukraine?

Ann Neary (Westport, CT), NBCT, teaches ELA (AP Literature, Children’s Literature, World Literature, Journalism). She is a 2018 graduate of Mount Holyoke’s Masters in Teacher Leadership, a Fellow at Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence, and a facilitator for NNSTOY. Ann’s motto: “always sharing, always hopetimistic.”