There were 7.5 million children in Ukraine before the Russian invasion began. Some two million have fled. What is the first thing they look for, once they are safe in a foreign country? The answer is: a school. Monica Pinna, a journalist for Euronews, has traveled to France to see how Ukrainian refugee children integrate and adapt to their new life abroad. A trip that she recounts in the present report of the Euronews-WITNESS program. The reporter tells, in the first person, her experience.
In speaking with some of them, I was able to hear some shocking testimonies. It is difficult to assimilate that a teenager, sitting quietly in class, at his desk, gives a response like this: “Many people were raped or murdered, just for fun. If you do not want to see it, or be part of it, you have to leave” .
Serhii Horbonos is 17 years old and is from Dnipro, a city located in eastern Ukraine. He arrived in France alone, without his parents. He arrived together with other young Ukrainians from the same city whom he had never met before. Since then, the group of 26 Ukrainians, of which he is now a part, has become a family.
“We all understand that we are in the same situation,” explains Serhii. “If someone lost his parents, it would be the worst for any of us, and the others would help him.”
I met Serhii at the “Diois School Complex“, in the quiet town of Die, in the south of France. The idyllic mountainous region to which it belongs, could not be a more different setting for these students who come from a country devastated by war. The management of the educational center has An intensive French course has been created exclusively for them, with the aim of gradually integrating them into other courses.
Conversations about the war are left out of class, her French teacher tells me. Between the laughs for some funny pronunciation of the new language they learn, sometimes the atmosphere becomes heavier. But, then, trying to read the ‘letter u’ like the French do… again gets some laughs.
“The goal at school is not only to teach them to speak French,” says the director of the ‘Diois School Complex’, Jean-Yves Ebel. “In addition, it is intended that they recover their social life, and let them live their adolescent stage,” he adds.
“One of the missions of education is to give students a place in which to develop their personality and well-being,” he says.
The integration of Ukrainian students in French classes, which I have attended, is carried out with great respect and attention.
I was excited to see little Andrii, 9 years old, from kyiv, in his new class in Lyon. He was the only one who did not speak French, among about 30 students. His teacher uses a simultaneous translation application on her mobile phone to communicate with him. His companions use gestures and goodwill, with the same goal. Andrii is one of the best students in his Ukrainian class. He now understands French more and more.
I left every school I visited with a smile and a thought: “All refugees of all ethnicities and nationalities deserve the same unprecedented support that is offered to Ukrainians today.”