Meals and Czech friends play an important part in the life of children from Ukraine
Světlana and her children are starting a new life in the Czech Republic
Světlana lived in a new house with her two children and husband in the town of Hostomel, some 40 km north of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, when the war escalated in February 2022. She recalls vividly the day when shelling started. "The airport near our town Hostomel was bombed on the very first day of the war. Planes were flying over our heads, bombs were falling, it was very loud. I took my daughter, my son and my mother, who lived in Irpin, and left as quickly as possible. My husband had to stay in Ukraine to join the army. We had a new house, but it burned down. Now we have nothing," Světlana recalls.
Světlana and her two children Věra and Alexandr fled Ukraine to Prague, Czech Republic, with just one backpack each. "The kindness and support from the Czech people were very important for us, especially at the beginning, when things were particularly difficult. We were happy that people understood our problems and tried to help us.”
Světlana found an apartment through Women for Women, a UNICEF-supported organisation that arranged accommodation for Ukrainian mothers with children. She also benefited from basic necessities and clothes for herself and her children. Only after arriving in Prague, Světlana realised that her children only packed books. "Mummy said I could take a few things and some clothes," says Svetlana’s daughter Věra. "But I wanted manga comics, notebooks for school and my French textbook. There was no room for clothes."
Once in Prague, Světlana enrolled her children at Hostýn Primary School. Věra has just finished sixth grade, while her brother Alexandr has completed ninth grade and will be enrolling in high school to study gastronomy to become a chef. After a year in the Czech Republic, both children speak fluent Czech.
School and language skills were a priority for the family, and Světlana was very eager for her children to learn Czech quickly and become fluent within a few months of starting school. "Last summer we had to learn ten Czech words every day, only then we could go for a walk," explains Věra.
Although Světlana is learning Czech very fast, she is still looking for work and currently relying on Women for Women’s support to provide school lunches for her children. Thanks to UNICEF’s partnership with Women for Women, over 1,740 refugee children from Ukraine have benefited from free lunches provided in 82 school and kindergartens’ canteens. "The lunches are a big help, especially because I have two children and providing a meal for both of them would be unaffordable,” Svetlana says.
Trough the cooperation, the City of Prague, UNICEF and Women for Women ensured that Ukrainian pupils in Prague had access to free lunches for the school year 2022-23, while working towards their inclusion into free meal programme in the next school year.
For Věra, the school canteen is also an opportunity to learn about Czech culture and food and make new friends. "I like dumplings most of all, but also spaghetti, potatoes and meat. The meals are very different than in Ukraine, where my favourite food was green Borscht," says Věra, describing the traditional Ukrainian soup made with eggs, sorrel, dill and cream. "I like school very much, I have friends there and I like to learn, although I am struggling a little with geography and history. I have a lot of friends both from Ukraine and the Czech Republic. In my class, I have two friends from Ukraine, the rest are Czech."
Věra often teaches Ukrainian to her best friend who, in turn, teaches her Czech. She says that her the most difficult Czech word has so far been the “samozřejmě”, which means “of course”.
Světlana finds it difficult to envisage what the future holds for her children: "Before the war, my family had many plans, but now we have no home, and my husband is in the army. It will take some time before we are ready to think about our future. We are worried and unsure about the future, so it’s hard to focus on the possibilities and start something new, even if we are trying to adapt to our new life here in Czech Republic.”