Berlin welcomes Ukrainian children

Mariia Kerashchenko, a Ukrainian refugee, tightly held her children's hands as she led them through a Berlin courtyard, up a graffiti-covered staircase, and into a brightly lit classroom.

Berlin welcomes Ukrainian children

Her 7-year old son Myroslav is among 40 children who began their first day at school Monday. This was just weeks after they fled the fighting in Ukraine .

Zoriana, a 3-year-old girl, is too young to take the class. Two Ukrainians have also fled Ukraine for the German capital. These lessons are part of a volunteer initiative and will prepare the children to enter Berlin's regular schools.

"It makes me feel emotional when I see all of the help and solidarity there," Kerashchenko, a 30-year-old from Vinnytsia, central Ukraine, said to The Associated Press. Her eyes were filled with tears.

She said, "Everyday, I hope that it can be back to Ukraine. But it is too dangerous for the moment, so in between it is wonderful that our son can go to school here in Germany."

Faina Karlitski and Burcak Sevilgen created classes for refugees and organized them in just two weeks. They also advertised their program via Telegram.

As their teachers welcomed them in Ukrainian, the children clutched their newly purchased exercise books, sharpened pencils, and erasers. They will continue their education at home, and they will also be taking German language classes. Activities such as painting, playacting and handicrafts will follow the three hours of school each day.

Natalia Khalil (33), a Rivne, western Ukraine native, will be teaching the third- and fourth graders. Tatjana Gubskaya (56), will take care of the first- and second grades. Gubskaya, a Ukrainian mother of a seven-year-old grandson and her daughter fled Ukraine.

Gubskaya, who was also a teacher in second grade before the February 24 Russian invasion, said that "the kids are grateful to have some sort of routine again" and that they have met other children from Ukraine.

Teachers will receive 500 Euros per month in donations, until they get work permits and are officially hired.

Sevilgen, 36 years old, is one of two people behind refugee classes. She is also a Berlin teacher. Karlitski, her 31-year old friend and management consultant, agreed to do everything they could to help at least some refugee children get back to school.

Sevilgen stated that they both had a keen eye for social problems and wanted to help. This is why they spent every minute organizing the classes.

They began raising funds and made arrangements with Arche, a Berlin youth support program -- "ark" as it is known in English -- for them to assume sponsorship of the classes. They were offered a room in Berlin's immigrant neighbourhood of Wedding by Ecosia and connected quickly via Telegram to Ukrainian mothers who had just arrived in Berlin.

Over 3 million Ukrainians fled to other countries, with most of them going to Poland. Most of the victims are mothers and children. Men over military age are not permitted to leave Ukraine. According to the United Nations, there are more than 6 million people who have been forced from their homes.

As of Monday, Germany had registered 225,357 Ukrainian refugees. However, the actual numbers are likely to be higher as they do not need visas to enter the country and the federal police does not keep any records about refugees who arrive by bus or train. The majority of Ukrainians who arrive in Germany by car from Poland are not usually registered.

Since the outbreak of war, more than 10,000 refugees have arrived in Berlin by train every day. Thousands more have also made their way by car. Many refugees are staying in shelters at the city's convention centre and at an old airport. Others are staying with relatives who immigrated many years ago and are part of a 300,000.-member Ukrainian diaspora.

According to the government, half of refugees are children or teenagers and will need to attend school and kindergartens. The task force was established to coordinate the school attendance of refugees in Germany's 16 states.

Many schools in Berlin, including some privately-owned institutions, have already taken in refugees. Officials in the city are currently setting up 50 classes for language proficiency to help them get up to speed. They can draw on their experience in 2015-16 when approximately 1 million refugees fled conflict zones in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. These children eventually enrolled in the school system.

The two classes that Karlitski and Sevilgen will organize until the welcome classes can be up and running will ease the transition for the children to their new life, teach them German, and help them make new friends.

Sevilgen stated that the most important things to them now are a new routine and other kids. We hope to continue this project as long as we can get donations.


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