At the Richmond Pre-K Center, Nataliya Shchesnyak is better known as Miss S., a cheerful special education pre-kindergarten teacher.

From her demeanor, you’d never know the long road she took to get here from her native Ukraine years ago, or the challenges her family members who still live in Kyiv are facing.

“I slept like maybe three or four hours every day, no more, because I need to, I need to hear from them, they survived,” she said.

What You Need To Know

  • At the Richmond Pre-K Center, Nataliya Shchesnyak is better known as Miss S.

  • But in recent weeks, she spent hours after work calling embassies and members of Congress to get her niece and nephew out of Ukraine

  • Shchesnyak's colleagues say she's remained a constant and cheerful presence for the toddlers she teaches

In recent weeks, after spending the day helping toddlers learn, she went home to spend hours calling embassies and her member of the House of Representatives, trying to get her young niece and nephew out of Ukraine. A friend in Hungary took them in, and finally, she was able to get them visas to come here.

“I went to Hungary to take them, and we came here. So now they live with me,” she said.

Her mother, too, has come to the U.S. Though she still fears for other family and friends, it’s a relief.

“When this war happened, it’s someone, like, hold my heart this way,” she explained, clenching her fist, “and didn’t let it go. So after they came, it’s kind of now, a little bit better,” she said, fluttering her fingers.

All the while, she’s been a steady, smiling presence for her young students and her coworkers.

“Knowing her, you wouldn’t even know the stuff that is going on at home, because she still comes here every day, full force, ready to engage with whatever she had planned,” her co-worker Caroline Giuliano, a speech pathologist at the pre-K center, said.

Shchesnyak is used to hard work. She came to the United States at 35, knowing no English. She took English as a second language classes at the College of Staten Island, went back to school, and eventually became certified to teach special education.

“I’m the person who is, kind of, never give up,” she said.

And she feels proud when she sees her students move on to less restrictive classes for kindergarten.

“That’s why I’m working as a special ed teacher. This is my goal, to move them from special ed, and when it happens, I feel so happy for them,” she said.

She's also thankful to work with colleagues who look out for her.

“They take care of me, and they even, you know, support the children, my niece and nephew, offering some clothes, whatever I need,” she said.

It's comforting, at a time when her family and friends are going through such hardship.

"They are just bombarding the whole Ukraine. Destroying cities and civilizans. So many people died, and for what?" Shchesnyak said.