Iryna Yetskalo has founded an educational center for Ukrainian children and youth in Timisoara, Romania. Her experiences in education are her weapon in the war against Russia: "I try to do everything I can for Ukraine," she says. Photo: Daniel Díaz.

FUF-correspondents, Report

"I fight on the front line of education"

The contractor Iryna Yeti scale escaped the war i Ukraine and started one training center i Romania. Where being taught ukraine children and young people that has needed leave his country but want to liabilities leave his study.
- We do is so I tjanar my country, says Iryna Yeti scale. 

In Casa Tineretului, the "Youth House", a concrete colossus from the communist era in Timisoara, houses the training center Ukr Kids Hub - who teaches about 40 Ukrainian primary school students. In one of the rooms, a group of fourth graders are sitting and having an English lesson. They learn the names of the different parts of the human body and language teacher Oxana Cotelea asks what "foot" is called in English. A child demonstrates by lifting his own over the head of the classmate next to him.

The rest of the training center's staff are sitting in the next room. Among them is the center's founder Iryna Yetskalo. She lights up with the news that the center has recently received financial support from UNICEF.

- It is fantastic. Now we will be able to take in 100 students, explains Iryna Yetskalo.

Oxana Cotelea, from Moldova, teaches an English class for primary school students. A total of twelve teachers have been employed at the training centre. Photo: Daniel Díaz.
A hub for Ukrainian identity

Iryna Yetskalo is one of the thousands of Ukrainian refugees who arrived in Romania in March 2022. She came to Timisoara, one of Romania's most populous cities located in Timi County - about there 3 000 Ukrainian flyktingar currently living.

- I didn't know where I was going when I left Ukraine. I was only supposed to pass through Romania, not stay here. But I felt a welcoming warmth in Timisoara and that there was support to be had, says Iryna Yetskalo.

She decided to stay and quickly began planning how she could contribute to helping her homeland from Romania.

- I wanted to do something that involved children and education.

The city of Timisoara in Timi County, where the Ukr Kids Hub educational center is located. Image processing: Daniel Díaz.

Before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Iryna Yetskalo started a service that matched Ukrainian students with schools, preschools and extracurricular activities worldwide. In her luggage, she thus carried the knowledge required to start the educational center Ukr Kids Hub - which filled a necessary need of Ukrainian families in Timisoara.

- Mothers contacted me and said that they missed a Ukrainian community for their children and young people, where they can be with others and speak their own language, says Iryna Yetskalo.

Six months later, the school was officially inaugurated. Students have access to six premises for primary and secondary school classes, but also media and entertainment rooms. Mathematics, history and sports are some of the subjects taught at the centre, but also languages ​​such as Ukrainian, English and Romanian. Upon completion of studies, students receive a valid Ukrainian diploma, and in addition to the regular school schedule, students have the opportunity to attend various workshops and go on excursions. 

Temporary integration instead of assimilation

Of the many Ukrainian families who fled to Timisoara, many parents did not want to place their children in Romanian schools. The state, on the other hand, wanted to integrate the Ukrainian students into the Romanian education system and teach in Ukrainian, says Iryna Yetskalo.

- The parents want the children to study according to a Ukrainian school standard in order to be able to return to their homeland in the future.

Iryna Yetskalo points out that the center does not mean to segregate the children and young people from their current place of residence, but to allow them to preserve their Ukrainian identity in a place where they feel safe.

"Glory to Ukraine" is written on a blackboard in a classroom. Photo: Daniel Díaz.

- The idea is to temporarily integrate them into Romanian society, but not to assimilate into it, as the Russian occupiers want with us Ukrainians.

There were many civil society organizations on the ground in Romania to help the Ukrainian refugees when they arrived, but for Iryna Yetskalo, feeling emotional stability was most important first.

- The aid organizations wanted to start immediately with integrating us; "you should learn Romanian, study in a Romanian school and get a Romanian job". It is not possible to force someone to integrate when you are suffering from the stress of having fled a war, she says.

The war destroys the school for children and young people

The Russian invasion has led to the destruction of nearly thousands of Ukrainian educational institutions. Just over 7,5 million children, 1,5 million young people and over 70 international students has been affected by the armed conflict, shows numbers from UNESCO. In March, the EU's emergency system for temporary protection was activated, giving Ukrainian children the right to education in their country of residence.

Some countries have also introduced their own support measures such as public education with teaching in a minority language. In Romania there is 45 schools and ten gyMnasia schools who teaches in Ukrainian. Romania also offers Ukrainian students free accommodation in boarding schools and grants for studies.

In connection with the mobilization of Europe announced the education of Ukrainegs- and Minister of Science, Sergeei Shkarlet, that all children who study outside their egna schools and abroad will receive a certificate as proof of completed academic year. In addition, the grades will be registered by the Ukrainian school authority, regardless of where they study.

Da March 15 2022 antogs en lag which means that Ukrainian teachers will be able to work with their average salary from whatever place they are temporarily in.

"We just sat at home and studied and cried"

In one of the youth center's many halls, a group of teenagers has crowded into a corner, near the cold window light. Bent over their phones and tablets, they follow the online classes taught by the teachers from Ukraine. 15-year-old Yana Pasechniuk and Vasilina Tarasova have a math lesson. Both study at upper secondary school, but through different schools. The center offers them a space to study and meet friends - almost like in a regular school in Ukraine.

- We like that someone decided to open this center. Before it existed, we just sat at home and cried and studied, says Vasilina Tarasova.

At the same time, Yana Pasechniuk mentions that the online classes have their drawbacks.

- Sometimes they have to interrupt the lessons when the air raid siren sounds to go down to the shelters, says Vasilina Tarasova.

15-year-old Yana Pasechniuk and Vasilina Tarasova study at the educational center. There is a psychologist that the students can go to. Yana Pasechniuk tried it once, but felt she didn't need it: "I talk to my friends instead," she says. Photo: Daniel Díaz.

Both fled the war but from different cities. Yana Pasechniuk came from Kherson, a city of 280 inhabitants that was occupied early in the invasion. The Ukrainian army has now taken the area back under its control.

- When my city was occupied, my family and I were forced to travel through Russia, Georgia, Turkey, and Bulgaria to get to Romania, she explains.

Vasilina Tarasova and her family left Sumy, another city occupied by Russia until the inhabitants sjelba contributedg to drive out the ryshall stythe rks i shouldjan of April 2022.

- I woke up at five in the morning, mother told me that we had to leave home. I wasn't prepared, I didn't have time to pack, I only brought what was necessary, she says.

Yana Pasechniuk fled the war in Ukraine with her family across the Black Sea to reach Romania. Photo: Daniel Díaz.

For many Ukrainian refugees, Romania was a transit country onward to the rest of Europe. According to the newspaper ADZ-Online, he traveled a lot three million Ukrainian refugees through Romania by 2022, and nearly 100 remained. After the outbreak of war, companies, institutions and organizations in the municipality of Timisoara mobilized several aid efforts for Ukrainian refugees.

In a foreign country, without any friends from the hometown, a tough period of loneliness began for the two teenagers Yana Pasechniuk and Vasilina Tarasova.

- The first three months here were difficult because I was completely alone with my family without any of my friends, explains Yana Pasechniuk.

- It was difficult for me. I just cried and slept all day, says Vasilina Tarasova.

Yana Pasechniuk dreams of becoming a singer and Vasilina Tarasova wants to work in design or architecture. But the future is hard to imagine at the moment.

- It feels like we will never be able to return home. The thought of that cannot be handled, says Vasilina Tarasova.

“This is how I serve my country”

The war is not only fought on the front. Reports testify about how Russian-occupied areas are also taking over Ukrainian schools and introducing their own school system in hopes of molding a younger, loyal generation with a Russian worldview. The fight for the students is not something that Iryna Yetskalo intends to back down from.

- It hurts to see how my country is burning, but I try to do everything I can for Ukraine from where I am - in a safer place, she says and continues:

- I fight on the front line of education, that's how I serve my country. 

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