UNICEF boosts learning opportunities for Ukrainian children in Bulgaria
As the war in Ukraine marks its first year, UNICEF is supporting education solutions for Ukrainian refugee children in local schools and learning hubs in Bulgaria.
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Every morning, nine-year-old Tanya takes a bus from the Bulgarian seaside town of Svеty Vlas to a small school in the neighboring village of Kosharitsa, where she studies with her Bulgarian classmates. This well-maintained and spacious building where she studies opened its doors to eight Ukrainian children last September.
“My favorite classes are maths, physical education and art,” says Tanya in Bulgarian, as she pulls her books out of her backpack.
She and her family fled from Zaporizhzhia last summer and settled in one of the hotels in the coastal area of Bulgaria, with the help of the government. She likes her new school, where she feels welcomed and included. Her friend and classmate Zahar who enjoys playing football with local children on his school break, shares the same feeling.
“We have Ukrainian children in different classes,” says school principal Nikola Georgiev, who is open to enrolling more children from Ukraine. “We have organized additional Bulgarian language classes to help them. In general, especially the younger ones, they have no problem with the learning material. They are doing well and manage to integrate with their classmates.”
To support the integration of children like Tanya and Nazar, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is working with the non-government organization Fund Good to provide educational supplies and learning materials for vulnerable Ukrainian and Bulgarian children. Thanks to UNICEF’s support, Tanya’s school now also has an additional mediator to facilitate communication among children, and the local municipality has arranged a regular bus to bring Ukrainian children to school and return them home.
Over 650 local educational institutions in Bulgaria welcomed Ukrainian children in 2022, including 430 schools and 220 kindergartens. However, as in other European countries, many Ukrainian students still remain outside of the national educational system.
To support these children, UNICEF has launched non-formal learning and recreational activities through a wide network of learning hubs and safe learning and play areas in 16 localities across Bulgaria. The play and learning network provides daycare for younger children, while school-aged children received mentorship and tutors to support their learning and catch-up classes.
The Education Hub in Sofia is one of these spaces, which, with the support of UNICEF, helps to enable continuous access to learning for Ukrainian children. The hub runs daily face-to-face classes for some 180 children aged 6 to 17 years old, who study here in two shifts.
“Education and schooling are crucial for every child,” says Christina de Bruin, UNICEF Representative in Bulgaria. “UNICEF will continue to assist displaced children from Ukraine in learning and developing in Bulgaria. Thanks to the generous assistance from the United States Government, we can ensure continuous access to education for nearly 5,000 Ukrainian children in the current school year, including through Bulgarian language classes and safe learning and play areas. Another 2,000 refugee children enrolled in the national education system will be supported with education supplies and materials delivered to schools and kindergartens.”