The lesson of choosing love instead of hate

Ukrainian teacher creates in Bucharest a school - an island of normality for Ukrainian children

Ukrainian teacher
30 June 2022

 10 MAY 2022 - Anastasiia Konovalova is taking her two-year-old son Kyril out for a quick walk in the park behind their apartment in Obor, Bucharest. It is their first day in the new apartment - they lived for two months together with nine other families somewhere near the outskirts of the city and all she wants now is to make sure Kyril will be happy in their new place. She buys him two small pastries that he chooses himself and then puts him on her shoulders so he can see the world and the quiet spring that is blossoming everywhere around the concrete buildings.  

Anastasiia arrived in Bucharest in March 2022, together with her little boy, leaving behind, in her hometown Odessa, her husband, her parents and a what used to be a very happy and fulfilled life as a mother, wife and deputy principal of a private primary school named Ostrov/ The Island. She did it for her son. From all the roles she has, she chose the one of the mother. Still, her son being ill on their arrival did not stop Anastasiia trying not to abandon her vocation, that of teaching children, on making sure they live a normal life, they learn to read and write Ukrainian, they cherish their background.  

Ukrainian children studying in Bucharest
More than 230 Ukrainian refugee children are now studying in Bucharest, Romania, at the National College Mihai Viteazul, that is hosting now 8 classes of Ukrainian children. They are going to school three hours per day, continuing their education in a safe place.

She went together with some of her colleagues from Odessa to the main Bucharest rail station, where refugees were arriving in big numbers every hour, and made her voice heard - “We are teachers, we want to teach, allow us to teach somewhere, for free, just gives us this opportunity and we can help the children”. In less than a week, 50 Ukrainian children aged 5 to 10 where being taught to read and write in both Ukrainian and English, but also mathematics and science. And the number of children needing education grew exponentially with each day.

Anastasiia remembers those days while taking the tram to her pupils’ new island of normality - a high school in the centre of Bucharest where nowadays almost 230 children are rushing in every day to learn and spend time in the company of other children.  

“I look around and I remember my town and how life used to be. We thought it was boring, but it was happiness. Now, here, what we are trying to do, my colleagues and I, is to give kids strength, strength not to hate. They have all the reasons to hate but hate is not the solution”.  

Ukrainian Children
Ukrainian refugee children having fun on a football gate, in a school yard, in Bucharest Romania. They received backpacks with school supplies from UNICEF to continue their education in safety.

Right before entering her class, Anastasiia has a brief discussion with the head of the school - some of the hardest days are the ones in which children learn about their relatives being killed in the war back home. And every day can be one of these days. The children’s emotional state is capital to the learning process and Anastasiia and her fellow tutors are making this their top priority, trying not to hide reality from them but also helping them to heal and grow.  

Entering the class, one sees beautiful and bright faces that almost makes one forget the horrors that most of these children got to experience in the past few months. Seeing the joyous and effortless way Anastasiia teaches her pupils English through playing games and singing songs but also the way in which she interacts with the calm and composure of a politician with people like the German President or the First Lady of the United States, one could forget that she is a very young person and a refugee herself, someone who needs to balance an ever shifting professional and personal life.  

“This morning they bombed the shopping mall next to our home - all the windows are now gone”. She smiles, a somehow bitter smile. “Ah, well, this is war” she adds and pushes away the thought, moving on to what is most important - her children. 


Home is a word that has a sacred ring to all Ukrainian refugees and Anastasiia shares their hope of going back, rebuilding their country and giving a bright and peaceful future to all the beautiful children who are, at the end of the school day, getting reunited with their parents and heading back to their temporary homes. As she walks to the tram that will take her back to Kyril and the online classes she teaches to Ukrainian kids who live in Odessa or in other parts of Europe, Anastasiia smiles and her eyes mirror for a second the bright light that she brought through the day to the faces of her pupils.