She carried what she could when she fled Kyiv.

What she had to leave behind is almost more than she can bear.

Ruth Karnowski, a 71-year-old schoolteacher from Little Falls, Minn., packed a bag and grabbed her iPad. Classes would continue once her 6-year-old students reached safety. If they reached safety.

Miss K, as her students call her, has been teaching at the Kyiv International School for around 12 years. Even through an iPad screen, her lessons are a tether to someplace safe and normal for the children who have been scattered across the map by the Russian invasion.

When class is in session, there are stories to read and songs to sing. The children don't need to know if their teacher is sad, or scared, or that the only classroom space available along her escape route one day was a drafty hallway in a brewpub in Lviv.

"It doesn't matter how I feel. When those little faces light up on my screen, I smile and I say 'Today we're going to read a story,'" said Karnowski, speaking by Zoom from a temporary apartment in Košice, Slovakia, where classes continue. "We talk about math. We're studying what's in the sky for science. We just have fun together."

"You're my little potato, you're my little potato," her students sing along in English. It's the class' favorite song this year. "You're my little potato, they dug you up. You come from underground."

"The world is big," the song tells us. "So big, so very big." These little ones have seen too much of this big world already.

"Miss K, Miss K," a little girl called out in class one day, looking straight into the camera. "They're going to destroy my beautiful city."

The other children fell silent, listening.

"I said, 'Let's talk in a bit. But right now you're safe,'" Karnowski said. "'You're safe and I love you.'"

She didn't see that little girl again for two weeks.

"Just Monday, I turned on my Zoom and I was getting my tea and I heard, 'Good morning, Miss K!'" Karnowski said. The little girl and her family had made it to the relative safety of western Ukraine. "Thank God."

Another student was traveling in a convoy toward the Hungarian border when the shelling started.

"Mom, don't worry," he said. It was a story his mother would later share with his teacher. "Don't worry, Spider Man will save us."

Then, just to be sure, he pretended to be Spider Man, trying to save everyone from the tanks.

When the lessons end and the little faces blink off the screen, one by one, Karnowski stays online to search for news of her friends back home. A thumbs-up on Facebook serves as proof of life these days.

Her boss checked in after hiking 27 hours in the freezing cold with her dog to reach the Polish border.

A friend — a fellow Minnesotan who married a Ukrainian — posts pictures of the spring lambs she's still tending on the family farm outside Kyiv. She watches the dirt road that leads to her home, expecting to see Russian tanks any day.

For days, Karnowski waited for word from a friend who was trying desperately to get her grandmother, her parents, and her two children to safety after their home was destroyed. Her husband had joined the defense forces, her car had broken down, and the family was sleeping in basements and subway tunnels, trying stay safe from Russian mortars.

"If you have made a Ukrainian friend, you have made a friend for life," Karnowski said. "They are the kindest, most generous people you will ever meet."

The father of one of her former students, an American citizen, has been driving back and forth between Poland and Ukraine for four straight weeks. He brings in carloads of food and medicine and drives out people who need a lift to safety.

Andrea, another friend, launched a grassroots drive that funnels donations directly where they're needed. Her Facebook group, Helping Ukrainians with Andrea, raised the money for car repairs that helped the stranded family evacuate to safety, Karnowski said.

Karnowski is haunted by what she left behind. Her home. The children she taught 12 years ago, who are old enough now to put on a uniform and join the defense forces. Her beloved French bulldog, Coco, who was too fragile to travel and stayed behind with friends. Coco is safe. As safe an anyone is in Ukraine.

The news out of Ukraine is hard to hear. The photos and videos are painful to watch. Karnowski has just one request for her fellow Minnesotans.

"Don't look away," she said.

If Ukrainians can bear this sorrow, the least we can do is bear witness.

And when this is over, Ruth Karnowski is going back to Kyiv to help rebuild everything Putin tried to destroy.

"I will do what I can, and that's what I ask other people to do," she said. "Use the talents you have, even if it's just putting up a flier or calling your congressman."