the challenge of the school

Since the beginning of the war, 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees have crossed the Polish border. Many stayed and today almost 600,000 children have to be cared for. Your school days have started.

Poland, a border country, has taken in the largest number of Ukrainian refugees.
Poland, a border country, has taken in the largest number of Ukrainian refugees. © Radio France / Julie Pietri

“We are overwhelmed.” Jolanta Swiestowska opens a large filing cabinet in her office and runs her finger over a long list of names. School 34, which she co-directs, took in 256 Polish students between the ages of 7 and 15 before the war. 130 young Ukrainians joined them. “Our school was appointed by the town hall. We are the first elementary school in Lublin to accept Ukrainian students.”, She explains. The city is just over an hour’s drive from the Ukrainian border. “Of course we are not enough, but we have no choice. We have to deal with this situation.”

Polish lessons

When Ukrainian children arrive at this school, they are sometimes mixed with other students. But they also take special courses to learn Polish. In the same class, about twenty students aged 5 to 9 practice speaking “Hello”, “Good bye” and list the days of the week. They come from all over Ukraine. Kharkov. Odesa. Kyiv. irpin. Everyone says they are “good here”. you like “the fitness center”, “playtime”, “Writing letters in class”, “the beloved”… and silence. “There is no war”repeat several boys. “And there is no mermaid”, adds the youngest in the class. Masha is only five years old.

To help Polish teachers communicate with these children, several Ukrainian refugees were recruited. Victoria, 32, is from Mariupol. Children wrap themselves around his legs in the hallways. “It’s like medicine for me. I feel useful here. I’m useful for something.” Her husband stayed in Mariupol. She hasn’t been able to reach her friends for weeks.

A school that is overcrowded and under-resourced

“When I found out that this school was accepting many Ukrainian children… I came straight away.”also says Maryna, “I am lucky to be here with my family”. This English teacher lived in Irpin near Kyiv. “We managed to leave on the first day of the war. I just found out that we lost our house. It was completely destroyed. But thank God my husband is alive … And I’ve been living here with my daughter for six years. “ Her daughter is sitting in the second row, smiling. “She’s so busy that she often doesn’t remember until late at night that she’s not at home.”

The first M-word they gave was “mina”, bomb.

Like the other assistants, Maryna is paid part-time to translate and talk to the children to understand what is bothering them. “If you compare them to the Polish children… they are quiet. Nobody is speaking. It’s hard to know what’s going on in their heads there…was ‘mina’. Not ‘mama’ but ‘mina’ (bomb).” At the back of the class, a little eight-year-old girl is fiddling with her pencil case. “She came with her brother, big sister and neighbors because both her parents are soldiers. She misses her mother. She comes to hug us all the time. Some stories break our hearts.”

Today the school “34” is full. She lacks notebooks, pens, school bags, and food for snacks. “We can’t take any more children”, explains the management. But faces often change. Some students disappear overnight. The school is surprised. Did they return to Ukraine with their families? Probably. Did you change city? It is possible. Sometimes information is missing. But every departure is immediately replaced by the arrival of a new child.

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