By Sabrina Bates
CHS teacher Arlette Hargis continues to advocate for the people of Ukraine. On Thursday evening, Oct. 13, she spoke to a crowd at UTM about the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia and the conditions of her home country.
“My heart is broken,” Hargis shared with students and faculty at UTM’s Paul Meek Library. She described the current conditions in a country that has been under attack by Russian troops since Feb. 24. Hargis shared dismal images of the aftermath of attacks. Buildings are piles of rubble; streets are in pieces and bridges are decimated.
A naturalized U.S. citizen, Hargis has lived in Camden for 16 years. She is a native Ukrainian who earned a B.S. in elementary education with a specialization in music and a B.A. in English language and literature from the Chernigiv State Pedagogical University and the Chernigiv Teachers Institute. Her former home in Ukraine is near Chernigov, 20 miles from the Russian border and about 100 miles north of Kyiv.
Hargis explained that 31 years ago, when Russia still ruled, Ukraine had parts that were modern and vibrant with tourism, but other parts of the country were “drowning in poverty and waste.” The road to democracy and independence from Russia has been a struggle for Ukraine.
Since 1991, when Ukraine gained independence, it has had six presidents elected by Ukraine citizens to serve five-year terms. The country’s sixth and current president is Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “He is not an actor. He is a hero!” Hargis said.
She explained two out of three children have left their homes in Ukraine. Targeting early education facilities, Russian troops have destroyed 37 of the 52 school buildings for kindergarten students. “Education is very important in Ukraine, especially early education. At age 3, children go to music, art, and dance schools. They are still trying to go back,” Hargis said.
Attacks were made on cell phone towers and there are mines placed throughout the forests, making it more difficult for Ukrainians to escape. As of Sept. 30, there were more than 7.5 million Ukrainian refugees across Europe. Hargis said many Poland citizens are housing refugees in private homes and the country is providing education scholarships for refugees to attend universities.
An emotional Hargis described how, in her home city, Russian tanks “will just run over structures, running over children.” She talked of visiting online with the mother of one of her former students, a 30-year-old killed by Russian troops. “He had no weapons,” Hargis shared.
She said there are 12-year-olds fighting alongside 18-year-olds. A system of underground tunnels is in place, thanks to teamwork. But life is grim for those left behind.
“Before Russia came, Ukrainians lived just like you and me – working, raising families, celebrating anniversaries and birthdays,” Hargis said. “Now there are no banks, money, gas, or food, making the situation even worse for those who remain in the country.”
Another speaker at the UTM event, researcher Dr. Martin Nekola, shared information on the global impact of the invasion. Nekola received his doctorate in political science at the Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. His research is focused on non-democratic regimes.
He said that with nuclear power plants shut down due to dependence on Russian uranium, Europe is reconsidering its energy policies. Fuel is reportedly $8 per gallon in Europe. Inflation has taken its toll, with a reported 240 percent increase in electricity and 370 percent spike in gas.
Nekola said the European Union has “shown incredible strength and support for Ukraine.” Ukraine is a candidate to become part of the European Union. Nekola said the future of the war between Ukraine and Russia is uncertain, as well as its continued impact on global affairs.
“Because of the way Ukraine has stood up to Russia, a lot of smaller dictators around the world are watching and learning that evil has no power,” Hargis speculated. “The people of Ukraine still have hope, and they will continue to fight for their freedom.” To aid her native land, Hargis and her husband Mark founded a relief organization for Ukrainian children. Those who wish to help struggling Ukraine citizens can make a donation to the Ukrainian Humanitarian Relief Fund at any branch of Apex, Carroll Bank & Trust, or First Bank. Any donation amount, however small, can make a big difference. For more information, contact Hargis at 731-220-2969.