How school is helping Ukrainian children to lead a normal life during war
Oleg, 17, found a refuge in learning after he left Ukraine with his family. He found a community in Romania that helped him to integrate, and now he is doing the same for other Ukrainian children.
At 17, Oleg already knows what he wants to do in his career. At this age, most of his schoolmates still don't have a plan, but Oleg is already dreaming about the moment when he will become an engineer in the naval industry. He says his grandfather and father inspired him to follow their path.
"I want to finish high school, to learn and get my electrician's degree. I want to work on ships, in Constanta. My parents support me. And in Ukraine I had the same plan, to study hard to become a naval electrician", says Oleg, who now lives with his family in Romania, after fleeing the war in Ukraine.
On February 28, Oleg arrived in Romania, together with his mother and his younger brothers. They arrived at the border by car, and then took the train from Galaţi to Bucharest. They were helped by some friends to find a home, and now they live in Mogoșoaia, which is their new "home".
"We want to stay in Romania. Everyone in the family likes it here, we've already settled in. I want to find work here after I finish high school", says Oleg.
"My mother has already taken a job in Romania at an organization, where she teaches Romanian to Ukrainian children," he continued.
His brother attends online classes with teachers from Ukraine, while his sister, who is the youngest of the family, is enrolled in a school in Romania, in the preparatory class. "She likes school, but she's pretty shy, so she doesn't speak in Romanian when she's home with us, but I think she started to get along with her classmates at school," says Oleg about his sister.
Oleg speaks Romanian, which he learned from his grandparents. But with his friends back home, he used to speak only Ukrainian. Now, since he came to Romania, Oleg has become much more confident, especially when he is leading a conversation in Romanian.
"I wanted to go to a school in Romania, to get used to the Romanian language and learn it better. When I came here, I didn't really understand the language, although at home our parents and grandparents still spoke to us in Romanian. I didn't understand the accent here. In Ukraine, in the regions where the Romanian language is spoken, the words are different. When I spoke to the children here in Romanian, I thought they understood me, but in fact I was using other words that they did not know. So, it was a little difficult for me to communicate at the beginning", says Oleg, who started studying in a school in Snagov, where he made a lot of new friends.
Oleg was also impressed by the warmth he received when he was greeted by the Romanian teachers, who were patient with him and answered to his questions.
"I wasn't the only Ukrainian student at Snagov, I had another colleague, but he didn't speak Romanian at all, so I helped him integrate, I explained certain subjects, translated certain things, helped him to communicate with other colleagues", says Oleg.
His friends remained in Ukraine, but they continue to keep in touch. Meanwhile, Oleg started to make friends in Romania as well and he admits that now he has more Romanian friends than Ukrainians. "I met them at school, but also when I participate in different activities," he says.
Oleg often goes to the Youth Hub meetings and workshops, a group supported by the Romanian Angel Appeal, with the support of UNICEF. There, he has the opportunity to meet several young Ukrainians, and together they organize various recreational activities.
"I like drawing. In Ukraine I used to draw more often, but I continue to do it here too. I used to go to "trânta", that's what we call it. It's a round carpet and the boys are doing free wrestling on it, but my mother doesn't like it, so I gave up," says Oleg.
He would like to do more sports, and he is thinking of taking swimming lessons. At the same time, at the Youth Hub he had the opportunity to participate in some capoeira lessons, where he met an instructor, who showed them some moves.
"When I came to Romania, I was still a child, I just wanted to play to have fun. But my world has changed radically in the last few months. I don't want to go down, I want to progress. So, I started to learn more, to take life more seriously. Since I moved to Romania, I have become more responsible and wiser. When I was in Ukraine, I had no worries, so I used to play more. But now I'm focused on learning, I want to progress".
Oleg is now preparing for the most important exam in a teenager's life – the Baccalaureate degree, which he plans to take in Bucharest, in the session organized specially for the Ukrainian children. But at the same time, he tries to get involved in many recreational activities, together with other young people.
UNICEF aims to support all school-aged children fleeing from Ukraine to continue their education by establishing safe learning spaces, providing them educational kits and school supplies, and supporting their integration into the national education system.
Almost 5,500 Ukrainian children are currently accessing formal and non-formal education in Romania, and over 15,000 are receiving individual learning materials to continue their studies.
UNICEF also supported the Ministry of Education to implement Romanian language classes and scale up learning services and facilitation in Ukrainian language.