YAVORIV, Ukraine - Paratroopers with the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade and soldiers with the Ukrainian national guard visited a school in Shklo, Ukraine, to hand out backpacks and school supplies to approximately 70 students Aug. 31, 2015, one day prior to Ukraine's Knowledge Day.
In Ukraine, Knowledge Day represents the first day of school for students nationwide. In a country with an approximately 99 percent literacy rate, this is an important holiday where students gather at their school and present flowers to their teachers during a ceremony. For children whom this is their very first day of school are allowed to ring the bell indicating the start of the school day.
The students gathered in the school auditorium, excited to see paratroopers and guardsmen together; many of the children wore their embroidered vyshyvanka shirts and dresses.
"Let us thank the American Soldiers with a big thank you in English kids," said Serena Marenyk, the director of Shklo primary and secondary (first through ninth grades) school.
Several minutes later a roaring "thank you" was heard as the kids welcomed the paratroopers and guardsmen as they prepared to hand out supplies.
"This has been a unique experience for me," said Spc. Mac Murphy, a native of Reno, Nev., and paratrooper with the 173rd Abn. Bde. "Education is a big deal for Ukrainians and I am glad to able to show our support for them."
The paratroopers and guardsmen took to the stage, giving every student a backpack as they walked by. Many students gave their thanks with an enthusiastic high-five afterwards.
The supplies for Shklo students were provided by Capt. Charles Shields, the chaplain for 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Abn. Bde. Shields set up the donation program to provide the supplies as part of an initiative to bolster the partnership between the U.S. and Ukrainian militaries and the Ukrainian population.
"Today our pupils from primary and secondary grades are here," said Valentina Truba, an English teacher at the school. "I think my pupils have always wanted to see soldiers from America, and today their dreams came true."
The paratroopers are in Ukraine as part of Fearless Guardian, the Congress-approved, Departments of State and Defense initiative under the Global Security Contingency Fund-Ukraine. The paratroopers are in Ukraine for the second of several planned rotations to train Ukraine's newly-formed national guard as part of Fearless Guardian, which is scheduled to last through November.