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D91 school board member headed to Ukraine to share student artwork with refugees

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IDAHO FALLS — A school board member will travel to Europe this week to hand out hundreds of drawings students created that are meant to uplift and provide some relief to refugees in Ukraine.

Paul Haacke, an Idaho Falls School District 91 school board member, is going to Krakow, Poland on Wednesday and returning to Idaho Falls on May 15.

RELATED: Local man helps refugee efforts at Poland-Ukraine border

This will be his second trip to help refugees dealing with the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Russia launched a full-scale invasion on Ukraine in February, unleashing airstrikes on cities and military bases.

His first trip lasted 15 days. Haacke did everything from helping families get through passport control and border checkpoints to shuttling families to the airport and train station to driving a family to western Germany where they found refuge with a foster family.

He said while he was there, he was inspired by a man and decided he wanted to implement what he was doing.

“I went over to Ukraine in the middle of March. I was helping with the refugee crisis and networking with people there and there was a man that had some artwork he was handing out to children standing in line,” said Haacke.

Haacke said the border crossing lines are two to 12 hours long for refugees trying to get from Ukraine into Poland.

“(The man) would hand them (children) pieces of artwork that he had from his child’s elementary school and I would see these kids’ faces light up. Here they are standing in line, they’ve left their home, they are scared, they are afraid, they’re lonely. They don’t know where they are going or what their future looks like. But he would hand them these pictures and their face would light up,” Haacke explained.

RELATED: BYU-Idaho students from Ukraine, Russia worried for their families and the future

When Haacke returned to Idaho, he decided he wanted to do a similar project and bring some of Idaho with him back to Poland and Ukraine for a second trip. He met with District 91’s superintendent and elementary school principals to see if they were interested in having students draw pictures for refugees.

Students responded to the call. Haacke said he simply told teachers that he wanted pictures from students that let refugees know that there are people on the other side of the world that care about them. He asked for a spring theme and gave an idea to draw a reaching hand.

Crosby Christensen, a sixth grader from Theresa Bunker Elementary School, drew a picture of two people holding hands. One hand is the American flag while the other is the Ukrainian flag.

Crosby
Crosby Christensen, a sixth grade student with his drawing. | Andrea Olson, EastIdahoNews.com

“I think it’s really good,” Crosby told EastIdahoNews.com. “When I first heard Russia invaded Ukraine, I thought it was a joke but then we watched CNN 10 (a news program for students) and I was like, ‘Oh this is a real problem. People are really suffering from this.'”

Crosby’s picture, along with hundreds of others, will be delivered by Haacke to children standing in line at border crossings. Haacke will also be visiting elementary schools inside of Ukraine and plans to hand the drawings out.

Other drawings received from District 91 students had written words that said, “We believe in you”, “Idaho stands by you” and “We support you.” Some were written in Ukrainian.

“I am amazed at the quality of art that’s come from our District 91 students. I had teachers sending me texts of some of the things that their students had created and my jaw was literally on the floor both at the creativity of the artwork as well as the quality. Just amazing,” he said.

Haacke with students
Paul Haacke talking with sixth grade students at Theresa Bunker Elementary School about Ukraine. | Andrea Olson, EastIdahoNews.com

Haacke said he looks forward to handing out the pictures created by students.

“It’s neat. I just know the expression these children had in Ukraine when this man was handing out artwork,” Haacke said. “These kids looked at them and hung onto them like a treasure.”

Ukraine drawing 2
Ellie Cheney, a sixth grade student with her drawing. | Andrea Olson, EastIdahoNews.com
Ukraine drawing
Nathan Bojorquez, a sixth grade student with his drawing. | Andrea Olson, EastIdahoNews.com
Ukraine picture 3
Logan Jones, a sixth grade student with his drawing. | Andrea Olson, EastIdahoNews.com
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