Ukrainian classes for refugee children now underway in Czech Republic

Ukrainian teacher Helina with her class of first, second and third graders

Special school classes for Ukrainian children whose families have fled to the Czech Republic are now running in Prague, Brno and other places. In this report we visit the First Slavic Grammar School, the first such institution in the capital to welcome refugee children in this way.

Ukrainian children with their mothers are entering the building of the First Slavic Grammar School in downtown Prague. Here children that have fled Russia’s war on their country are attending special classes: they are made up of Ukrainian children of roughly the same age and are taught by Ukrainian teachers.

I spoke to Ksenia and Dasha, two eighth graders from Kyiv.

How was the first week at school in Prague?

“I think pretty cool, I liked it, because we had Czech and Ukrainian lessons, and geography, Ukrainian language, and P.E. of course. We played basketball there.”

And did you come with your families?

Dasha: “I came with my mom because we have got very good friends here.”

Ksenia: “I also came with my mom to my sister because she has been living here for five years. She studied here and she is working here now.”

One of the Ukrainian teachers, Helina, who has had permanent residence in the Czech Republic for around a decade and a half, says the kids are great. She has first, second, and third graders all together in one class.

First Slavic Grammar School was the first school in Prague to offer its premises to the Ukrainian classes for children fleeing the war | Photo: Martina Kroa,  Radio Prague International

“Kids are kids. Always naughty. But I noticed that those kids are more mature, they have adult thoughts. Not thoughts that such kids should be having.”

The teacher can make the comparison, because on Saturdays she teaches Ukrainian children who live in the Czech Republic and attend normal Czech schools. Even though the recent arrivals play, and everything is alright, they are different than the ones she regularly teaches.

“And one more thing surprised me. I just want to cry about it. We were playing the whole day; we did, what we could. And at the end of the day, I asked: ‘Kids, do you like it here?’ ‘Yes. Well, we will definitely return home after the war,’ they answered. Six-year-old children say that.”

Helina volunteered to teach because she loves her home country and returns there. ‘Ukraine is always with us,’ she says.

“I would also like to thank the Czech citizens for their support. I cry when I see our flags on the street. Yesterday I came to a man, and said to him: ‘Sir, thank you for your support,’ and he said ‘no, we thank you. We like Ukraine’. How pleasing when I looked at Wenceslas Square. Thank you for everything. So, Glory to Ukraine and Glory to the Czech Republic!”

In their first week, the refugee children played, went on a field trip to the Charles Bridge, found new friends, did some math, writing, reading, and had regular subjects like geography, history, and Ukrainian language. They liked it, both the kids and the teacher told me. Helina added that everything was cheerful so far as they are kids and continues:

“Now, I am doing what I can. We are doing all sorts of things, fairy tales, what we have. Not exactly, what they had in school because we don’t have the textbooks yet. I look online, and do it over email. I am at least trying to do it the way it should be. So that they forget about the war at least a little bit.”

Ukrainian children that have fled the war are back in school in the center of Prague | Photo: Martina Kroa,  Radio Prague International

They want the children to both continue in their studies as if they would be in Ukraine, but also give them space to play, paint, do sports and forget about the war.

Martin Mařan from the Endowment fund Children of Ukraine (Nadační fond Děti Ukrajiny), which is in charge of the project, says they want to especially concentrate on teaching the children Czech, so that they can be integrated in regular classes. What’s more, with the number of refugees from Ukraine rising, schools will not be able to open that many Ukrainian-only classes.

The pupils are aged from six to 17, mirroring the Ukrainian educational system of 11 grades, Mr. Mařan says. Of the 18 pupils in Helina’s class, most are from Kyiv or its outskirts, such as Bucha. Others are from Poltava or Vinnytsia.

The children usually have parents or at least one adult caring for them. Katya, a second grader from Kyiv, came with her mom, grandma, sister, and a family pet. A fourth grader from Mykolaiv, Jelisej, said his whole family moved over because his mother has been living here for a longer time. So, he came with his brother, sister, grandparents, and their dog and cat.

The first Ukrainian classes opened for refugees on Monday March 7 in Prague at the First Slavic Grammar School in the city center. Martin Mařan from the Endowment fund Children of Ukraine explains why this school was an obvious choice.

First Slavic Grammar School was the first school in Prague to offer its premises to the Ukrainian classes for children fleeing the war | Photo: Martina Kroa,  Radio Prague International

“The First Slavic Grammar School in Prague was a quite natural partner for this project, because they were oriented on Ukrainian kids living in the Czech Republic even before the war conflict in Ukraine. They have around 23 teachers speaking the Ukrainian language. That’s the main thing because for the little kids that ran from their homes and speak only Ukrainian, a native speaker is a very good solution in these days.”

You mentioned that they can graduate here, get a high school diploma?

“Yes, that’s right. Because this First Slavic Grammar School has an accreditation from the Ukrainian Ministry of Education, so they can even provide that for their clients. But it’s just a critical situation now. The main thing is to set up some conditions for the children from Ukraine, and their parents. It’s usually moms who are escaping with them. We wanted to find some kind of a solution for them: they can be sure that their kids are from 9AM to 1PM at school, they have some food, and teachers who communicate with them. The parents then have the possibility to settle any necessary papers, administration, find jobs, and so on.”

What other schools in Prague or Brno will be opening to Ukrainian classes?

“We are opening more schools next week; two schools should be opened in Brno. We will open two more schools in Prague as well next Monday. Here at Slavic Grammar School, we are concentrating older kids, to give them the possibility to finish their basic education. Then they can apply for high school or university.”

How many kids will you be able to educate or take in this way?

“Sooner or later, we will somehow have to take care of all children, which are living in the Czech Republic now. We are just going step by step. These people came here yesterday or the day before yesterday, and we are trying to help them with the situation, to take care of their children for a few hours. In the end, it’s not the proper educational system, we know that. But if they will get some information, if they can continue with for example learning English or other useful subjects, we will do it.”

The First Slavic Grammar School was on spring break, so could offer its premises to five classes of children that have fled from the war. In the following weeks only one Ukrainian class stays, others will move to different schools. Mr. Mařan said the private schools like PORG, or Riverside will be taking some classes because it's easier for them to react to the current situation in comparison to the more rigid system of the state schools.

The launch of the Ukrainian classes is a part of the project Ukrainian Single Classes (Ukrajinské jednotřídky). It is a joint action of the Ukrainian Embassy, the Endowment fund Children of Ukraine, the Ministry of Education, Charles University, with the involvement of the latter’s former rector Tomáš Zima, and volunteers.

The children fleeing the war do not have to enroll in school right away, as their mental well-being after experiencing such traumatic events is a priority. Ukrainian children as well as volunteers from the education environment can register for the project through the website of the Endowment fund Children of Ukraine:

Author: Martina Kroa
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