Ukrainian children find welcoming classroom in Berlin | World

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BERLIN (AP) — Ukrainian refugee Mariia Kerashchenko firmly shook hands with her two children as she walked them through the courtyard of a dingy Berlin apartment building, down a graffiti-covered staircase and into a modern classroom. sunny.

Her 7-year-old son, Myroslav, is one of 40 children who started their first day of school on Monday, just weeks after joining the millions of people who have flocked to Europe to flee war in Ukraine.

Her 3-year-old daughter Zoriana is still too young for the course, which is being taught by two Ukrainians who also fled to the German capital. The lessons, which are part of a voluntary initiative, will prepare the children to enter the regular school system in Berlin.

“It makes me emotional when I see all the help and solidarity here,” Kerashchenko, 30, from Vinnytsia in central Ukraine, told The Associated Press, his eyes filling with tears.

“Every day I hope we can go back to Ukraine, but it’s too dangerous right now, so in the meantime, it’s wonderful that my son can go to school in Germany,” he said. she adds.

The courses for refugees were organized by Burcak Sevilgen and Faina Karlitski, who in just two weeks raised funds, organized the free classrooms and announced their program on the Telegram messaging service.

The children nervously clutched their new notebooks, sharpened pencils and erasers as their new teachers greeted them in Ukrainian on the third floor of the old factory. They will follow their course from home and will also take German lessons. The three hours of school each weekday will be followed by activities such as acting, painting or crafts.

Natalia Khalil, 33, from Rivne in western Ukraine, teaches third and fourth graders, while Tatjana Gubskaya, 56, will be responsible for first and second graders. Gubskaya fled Ukraine with her daughter and a 7-year-old grandson, who is in her class.

“The children are grateful to have some sort of routine again and to meet other children from Ukraine – they and their mothers have all been very stressed lately,” said Gubskaya, who also taught second grades. year before the February 24 Russian invasion.

The teachers will be paid 500 euros per month in donations until they have a work permit and can be officially hired.

Sevilgen, 36, one of the two people behind the refugee classes, is herself a teacher in Berlin. She and her 31-year-old friend Karlitski, a management consultant, decided to do what they could to get at least some of the refugee children back to school quickly.

“We’ve both always had our eye on social issues and wanted to help out here as well,” Sevilgen said, explaining why they spent every free minute organizing the classes.

They began fundraising and arranged with Berlin’s youth support program Arche – “ark” in English – to take over the sponsorship of the classes. They received an offer from the online search engine Ecosia to use free rooms in Berlin’s immigrant neighborhood of Wedding and quickly connected via Telegram with Ukrainian mothers who had recently arrived in Berlin.

More than 3 million Ukrainians have fled abroad, most of them to Poland. The majority are mothers and their children, with men of military age not allowed to leave Ukraine. Inside the country, more than 6 million people have been displaced, according to the United Nations.

Germany has registered 225,357 Ukrainian refugees as of Monday, although the actual numbers are expected to be much higher, as they do not need visas to enter the country, and federal police only keep records of refugees arriving by train or bus. Ukrainians entering Germany from Poland by car are usually not registered.

Up to 10,000 refugees have arrived in Berlin by train every day since the start of the war, and thousands more have come by car. Many are staying in shelters in the city’s convention center and at a former airport, while others are staying with relatives who immigrated years ago and belong to a Ukrainian diaspora of 300,000.

The government estimates that around half of the refugees are children and adolescents who will need to attend schools and kindergartens. He set up a working group to coordinate their school attendance in the 16 German Länder.

Several Berlin schools, including some private institutions, have already taken in some refugees, and city authorities are setting up up to 50 special reception classes to upgrade them in language skills. The authorities can draw inspiration from their experience of 2015-2016, when around 1 million people fled the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. These children eventually entered the school system.

While waiting for the reception classes to be set up, the two classes organized by Sevilgen and Karlitski will facilitate the children’s transition to their new life, teach them German and allow them to make new friends.

“A new routine and other kids – those are the most important things for them right now,” Sevilgen said. “And if we receive more donations, we hope that we can keep this project running for as long as it takes for children to go to normal schools in Berlin.”

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Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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