Education Disrupted for Ukrainian Children, Even Those Seeking Refuge Abroad

by Michael Nguyen
War's Impact on Ukrainian Children's Education

Milana Minenko, a nine-year-old girl, has been forced to give up playing the piano. After fleeing the war in Ukraine with her mother in March 2022, they found safety in Poland. During the day, Milana attends a public school in Poland, while her mother helps her keep up with the Ukrainian curriculum in the evenings. Their lives have become consumed by these efforts, leaving little time or money for anything else.

Milana’s hometown in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine was occupied by Russian forces, who destroyed her house with a missile on the second day of the war, uprooting her family and taking away everything they held dear.

For Milana, the loss extends to her education. The school that welcomed her with balloons on her first day now feels like a distant memory. She can only communicate with her friends through text messages, and her favorite teacher, who brought joy to her learning, is no longer present. Even her music school, where she studied piano and singing alongside her regular studies, now lies in ruins. Milana wonders if her primary school met the same fate, targeted by Russian forces seeking to destroy educational institutions.

According to government figures, Russian forces have destroyed 262 educational institutions in Ukraine and damaged an additional 3,019 during their invasion. However, the impact on the education of Ukrainian children goes beyond physical destruction. Those who have sought refuge in other countries are facing unprecedented challenges that are hindering their education. Families, educators, experts, and advocates all agree that the combined effects of war, relocation, and studying in a new country are compounding the educational setbacks faced by young refugees.

Ukrainian officials emphasize that the knowledge and skills of this generation are vital for rebuilding the nation after the war. They have expressed this as a top priority since the early stages of the conflict. Official reports indicate that at least 500 children have been killed in the war, and thousands have been forcibly deported to Russia. The future return of the 8 million recorded refugees across Europe remains uncertain.

Poland is home to the largest number of Ukrainian refugees, with approximately 1.5 million individuals seeking safety there. Many chose Poland due to its proximity to Ukraine and hold the hope of returning home someday. In Poland, children are not obligated to enroll in local schools, unlike in Germany and some other countries.

Out of the approximately 180,000 child refugees in Poland, about half are enrolled in schools, according to UNICEF. Similar to Milana, most of these children did not speak Polish when they arrived. UNICEF estimates that around 70% of Ukrainian students in Poland are following the Ukrainian curriculum alongside their attendance at Polish schools.

However, as students get older, the enrollment numbers drop significantly, with only 22% of Ukrainian teenagers in Poland attending Polish schools.

Jedrzej Witkowski, the CEO of the Polish nonprofit Center for Citizenship Education, describes the situation as a “disaster in slow motion.” Francesco Calcagno, from Poland’s UNICEF refugee response office, warns that the detrimental effects on learning and socialization will have far-reaching consequences. Experts agree that extracurricular activities, such as Milana’s music lessons, are crucial for development and mental health.

Calcagno emphasizes the urgency of bringing these children back to physical classrooms, especially after the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Polish schools already face severe teacher shortages, and language barriers further exacerbate the challenges for refugee students. It takes approximately three years to reach the level of proficiency in Polish required for academic work, even though Ukrainian and Polish are similar languages.

The trauma of war and frequent relocations add to the stress experienced by students who are already trying to keep up with two different curricula. Many refugee families have moved multiple times since arriving in Poland, contributing to a sense of instability.

Rita Rabinek, an intercultural assistant trained by the global relief group IRC, has witnessed students changing schools five times. She works to help Ukrainian children adapt to Polish schools.

For students attempting to keep up with their Ukrainian studies, the effects of war are still evident at home. Polina Plokhenko, a 16-year-old who left her Polish high school to focus on Ukrainian studies, attends online lessons with her school located on the frontline in Kherson. Bombings frequently force her teachers to seek shelter.

Polina, who aspires to study acting at a university in Kyiv, acknowledges the difficulty of her situation. She states that students without a clear motivation or career goals face even greater challenges.

Polina is soon due to take Ukraine’s final state examination, a requirement for university admission. The exam will be administered in 47 cities across 30 countries, offering Ukrainian students the opportunity to participate. However, the absence of graduation ceremonies and the overall uncertainty caused by the war leave students like Olha Andrieieva, a 17-year-old who attended a Polish school while following classes online for her former school in Balakliia, feeling disconnected and uncertain.

While some Ukrainian students are adapting well, becoming proficient in Polish and making plans to attend universities in Poland, others still struggle to find a sense of belonging. Tensions between Poles and newcomers have increased in schools, with reports of bullying targeting refugee students.

Milana, despite her linguistic progress and academic achievements, must navigate the demands of both curricula in her daily life. Lessons in piano or voice, once sources of joy and growth, have been relegated to the bottom of her family’s priorities. Her father remains separated from the rest of the family, awaiting the necessary paperwork to join them in Poland.

Milana’s mother, who works as a manicurist, dreams of returning to familiar walls and witnessing her daughter embrace her teacher once more. The hope of going back home, where life was different, fuels their aspirations and sustains them through the challenges they face.

Note: This rewritten text provides a summary of the original content while maintaining the essence of the story. Some sentences have been modified, rephrased, or combined to enhance clarity and coherence.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Education disruption

What is the impact of war on the education of Ukrainian children?

The impact of war on the education of Ukrainian children is significant. Not only have Russian forces destroyed hundreds of educational institutions in Ukraine, but the disruption goes beyond physical destruction. For those who have sought refuge in other countries, such as Poland, they face unprecedented challenges in adapting to new curricula, language barriers, and frequent relocations. The trauma of war and the difficulties of studying in a new country compound educational setbacks for these young refugees.

How many educational institutions have been destroyed in Ukraine due to the war?

According to government figures, Russian forces have destroyed 262 educational institutions in Ukraine as a result of the war. An additional 3,019 institutions have been damaged. These include schools and other educational facilities, depriving children of access to education and hindering the rebuilding efforts in the country.

How are Ukrainian children’s education affected when seeking refuge in Poland?

Many Ukrainian children have sought refuge in Poland, with approximately 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees residing there. While half of the child refugees in Poland are enrolled in schools, language barriers and challenges in adapting to a new educational system pose difficulties. Older students, in particular, have lower enrollment rates in Polish schools. The disruption caused by war, frequent relocations, and the requirement to learn a new language add to the educational setbacks faced by Ukrainian children seeking refuge in Poland.

What efforts are being made to address the educational setbacks of Ukrainian refugee children?

Efforts are being made to address the educational setbacks of Ukrainian refugee children. Organizations like UNICEF and nonprofit groups have set up Ukrainian schools in Poland to provide high-quality education to refugee children. Interpreters and intercultural assistants are also available to help Ukrainian students adapt to the Polish educational system. However, severe teacher shortages in Polish schools and the time required to become proficient in the Polish language present ongoing challenges to effectively address the educational needs of Ukrainian refugee children.

What is the importance of education for Ukrainian children in rebuilding the nation?

Education is of utmost importance for Ukrainian children in rebuilding the nation after the war. Ukrainian officials recognize that the knowledge and skills of this generation are vital for the country’s future. They consider education a priority and emphasize the need to bring children back into physical classrooms, especially after the disruptions caused by the war and the COVID-19 pandemic. The successful education of Ukrainian children is crucial for the nation’s reconstruction and development.

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David89 June 15, 2023 - 9:01 am

omg, can’t believe russian forces bombed kids’ schools in ukraine. now these kids in poland r struggling to catch up with new curriculum. hope they get the support they need. education is so important!

Sandra123 June 15, 2023 - 9:21 am

war rlly messes up kidz education, even those who escaped. no time or $ for anythin else. russians destroyed so many skools & now the kids suffer in new countries. it’s sad!

Emma2000 June 15, 2023 - 11:26 am

it’s heartbreaking to hear how war has disrupted these kids’ lives. they lost their homes, friends, and even their music schools! they deserve a chance to learn and rebuild their future. let’s help them!

LilyRose June 15, 2023 - 6:01 pm

education is the key to rebuilding after the war. these kids in poland need stability, proper schools, and teachers. it’s not just about books, but also their mental health & extracurricular activities. they deserve a brighter future!

MarkT June 16, 2023 - 1:02 am

the effects of war on education r devastating. these kids in poland r trying so hard to keep up with both ukrainian & polish studies. the language barrier & constant relocations make it even harder. we need to support them!


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