This school in Bucharest offers Ukrainian children peace and regularity

The granite floor of Mihai Viteazul College still bears the faded stickers urging people to stay one and a half meters away, but the next crisis has long since forced itself on this high school in Bucharest. On bulletin boards, on doors, on the walls of classrooms: blue and yellow flags appear everywhere. The chatter of loud Ukrainian children’s voices echoes through the long corridors of the school building.

Every afternoon, when the Romanian students have returned home, the college is transformed into a primary school in exile. Eight Ukrainian teachers teach in eight classes with a total of 264 students between six and eleven. They are thus meeting a huge demand in the Romanian capital: there are still more than six hundred refugee children on the waiting list. Half of the more than 5 million Ukrainians who have fled the war in their country are children.

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Anastasieja Konovalova (30) is one of the teachers who helps run the school. The fragile Ukrainian fled the southern city of Odessa with her two-year-old son and forty other mothers and children in mid-March, where she taught English at a private school before the Russian invasion.

When they arrived in Bucharest, they quickly noticed how much their children missed the regularity of the daily teaching. “It made them miserable,” Konovalova says between classes. “They were busy, went crazy, could barely keep their attention on anything, forgot everything. It’s as if the whole school year has been erased.”

Long vacation ‘

The differences between the children are great. Those from Odessa have learned relatively little from combat operations, while those from Mariupol, for example, have been hiding in basements for weeks. After forced evacuation (which according to Konovalova often constituted ‘deportation’) to Russia, they arrived in Romania after long migrations. Children from besieged or occupied cities do not have to be put on a waiting list by Konovalova and colleagues, but can start right away.

8-year-old Eva (center) and other Ukrainian students in the class in Bucharest.
Photo by Ilvy Njiokiktjien

She also notices how some parents shield their children from the war much more than others. “Some have said during the flight that they were going on a long vacation. Others tell us everything that happens in our country. ”

The war has had an even greater impact on children than homeschooling during the shutdowns, she says. “The pandemic was also stressful, but this is incomparable. Many children are hardly checked anymore, their parents are busy with the war. That is precisely why they have to be in a classroom again.”

The war wiped out the entire school year

Anastasieja Konovalova primary school teacher

The lessons are not yet focused on knowledge transfer, says Konovalova. “We still do not teach them much. The important thing is that they develop a routine again. It helps to calm them down.” It also requires a completely different way of teaching from her. She should be much more patient. “You can not push them. Even though they do not open their notebooks throughout the lesson, I do not say anything about it. ”

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The trauma that the children have suffered can unfold at any time. “Sometimes it seems to subside, but then they suddenly have a panic attack.” A student hid under his desk throughout the lesson this week, after the sound of a helicopter flying overhead had suddenly sucked him back into the war.

Not a word Russian anymore

Konovalova sees running the school as her contribution to the fight against Russia and Putin, she explains belligerently. “Their childhood has already been taken from them by that monster. I do not want him to take away their education too. They must eventually rebuild our country.”

They’ll have to do that in the shadow of a “neighbor who will always threaten us,” she says. “It is not only Putin, most Russians also support his war.” Konovalova, who, like many Odessa residents, spoke Russian at home, has stopped doing so since February 24th. The only thing left is Ukrainian. “My son experiences getting used to it and does not like it. But that is my act of resistance. ”

Ukrainian children in class with teacher Anastasia Konovalova in Bucharest.
Photo by Ilvy Njiokiktjien

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