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Teachers in Ukraine are forging their own kind of war effort

In the midst of war, teachers are finding new ways to continue to educate their students, no matter what.

As the war in Ukraine continues, teachers who have both fled and remained in the country are finding new ways to continue educating their students.

In Lviv, Ukraine, NBC's Molly Hunter spoke to 22-year-old Aleksandra, who says Russia's brutal war with Ukraine won't stop her from bringing art and the Ukrainian language to her primary school-age students.

"When did you and your other teachers decide, 'OK, we need to get the kids back into learning?'" Hunter asked Aleksandra via Zoom.

"We just understood that we had a lot of energy to do something for the world — just, like, to be involved in a common victory, you know?" Aleksandra replied.

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According to a Ukrainian government estimate, 379 Ukrainian schools have been damaged during the ongoing Russian invasion — an estimated 59 have been completely destroyed by bombing and shelling.

"Today, a few of my kids during the lesson, they just, like, went to a window and told me, 'Sorry, we have to go to a shelter. It's dangerous outside. It bombs there,'" Aleksandra explained. "I just, like, stop breath. It's not normal lesson. It's not normal."

NBC's Matt Bradley visited Zhytomyr, where a high school was completely destroyed earlier this month. No students were inside during the attack.

There, Bradley spoke to Svetlana, who has been teaching for 27 years. When asked where she will go now, she responded: "I will stay. I will protect my children.

Olena, a middle and high school literature teacher, says she is going to stay, too.

“I cannot serve in the army, but I can teach students," she said.

Related: Voicemails from Kyiv: Listen to one woman’s dispatches from a week in a war zone

Other educators who have fled the country are also finding ways to teach their students virtually. Nastia, who was born in Ukraine and moved to the United States when she was 4, is teaching Ukrainian students virtually. She has held five sessions so far, and says she'll keep teaching as long as students continue to show up.

Lindsey, an educator working in Macedonia, fled Kyiv with her husband and three small children after President Joe Biden urged Americans to leave the country. Now, she works to make sure both teachers and students, in Kyiv and elsewhere, continue to teach, learn, and feel an ounce of normalcy during the ongoing Russian onslaught.

"My husband and I are both on a leadership team (at our school). So, we immediately were pulled into calls and figuring out the next steps and how we were going to evacuate staff that was left — we have both ex-pat staff and local staff," Lindsey told TODAY Parents. "So our school has been helping anybody who needs help get to where they need to be, if they would like to be evacuated. Our sister schools in the bordering countries have stepped up and opened their doors to our staff and students." 

Lindsey said it's so important for kids to have the routine of school, as it can help them emotionally during an overwhelming, scary time. Teachers who have fled continue to host school virtually and on Kyiv time, while others have reached out to their students still in Kyiv to make sure they have internet access and, of course, are safe.

"One person I talked to, she said five out of the 30 students in her daughter's class currently have internet," Lindsey added. "She's very hopeful that school will at least start online soon."

Related: Ukrainian forces continue to fight back as Russia encircles Kyiv

One of the hardest parts, Lindsey said, is losing communication with students, even if it's just for a few days. The uncertainty of this moment can be paralyzing.

"We have kids who disappear for four or five days at a time, and then they're like, 'Oh, I'm safe. I've crossed this border,'" she explained. "It's really unnerving, the not knowing for several days when you don't know where people are."

Lindsey said she deals with it by continuing to focus on her work — educating students and supporting teachers as best she can. She also focuses on her three children, ages 7, 5, and 3, who don't fully comprehend what is going on in Ukraine.

"We've had conversations with our kids and ask them, Do you want to go back to your school next year? What is your opinion?' And they want to go back. They want to go home," Lindsey said. "So do my husband and I. We plan to return to Kyiv when this is all over and help rebuild the city — rebuild our community — so we can continue doing what we were doing there: Teaching."