“Most mothers are here alone with their children” — Ukrainian teacher Erika Pavliuk already misses her blackboard, but first she helps refugees staying at the school
When Russia attacked Ukraine, English teacher Erika Pavliuk sent her students home and started volunteering at the refugee shelter set up at the school. Pavliuk helps internally displaced people who’ve fled other parts of Ukraine by offering a bed, warmth, and food.
“I HEARD the news from my husband. He was surfing on the internet and said the words that will always play in my head: our country has been attacked.”
English teacher Erika Pavliuk sits in her empty classroom in Berehove in eastern Ukraine, near the border with Hungary, and runs over the events of an early Thursday morning. It was 24 February 2022, and Russia had begun a brutal war of aggression against Ukraine.
Pavliuk says that she, in disbelief, dismissed the news at first. The family members continued with morning routines in uncertainty. Their 5-year-old daughter was taken to daycare, and unaware of what was really happening, Pavliuk headed to her workplace in the local school.
In the first class of the day, the teacher was standing in front of her 12-year-old pupils in the classroom. The atmosphere was dreary.
“I remember a boy sitting in class looking really pale. His nose started to bleed. I told the pupils to put their books aside and decided to just talk about what the children were most worried about. Practically, my pupils were afraid of being killed soon,” Pavliuk recalls.
After the first class on Thursday, the school received instructions from authorities. Teaching had to be suspended and all pupils were to be sent home.
“The daycare of my daughter also rang me to say that she must be picked up immediately. As soon as I arrived, the children had already been evacuated from the building. They were waiting for their parents outside, and at that moment nobody knew what would happen next.”
A few of weeks later, we already know a little more about what would happen in the coming months. In March, Russia would carry out missile strikes against the most strategically important targets in western Ukraine as well, but the most destructive battles would take place elsewhere in the country.
In early April, already four million Ukrainian refugees would have crossed the border to neighbouring countries. On top of this, western Ukraine would receive an immense number of internally displaced people.
From a teacher to a volunteer
As the war went on, Pavliuk, her colleagues, and other residents of the small town of Berehove began to understand the situation. Refugees from other parts of Ukraine started to arrive at the school already at the end of February.
In a matter of days, the entire town of Berehove set out to help those fleeing war. The teachers, school cooks, and other members of staff started volunteering. Pavliuk and her colleagues went through donations, organised things on behalf of refugees arriving at the centre, and helped them with whatever issues they might face.
The days were long for everyone, and there was no time for days off. Pavliuk says that time went by fast.
“The energy just came from somewhere. People needed help. I didn’t feel tired during the day, but when I went home, I fell asleep immediately when my head hit the pillow.”
The school soon became an important hub, as it was possible to prepare food for large crowds in its big kitchen. In normal times, 300 pupils go to the school.
“During the first days, some refugees only stayed at the shelter for a few hours, took a shower, and ate something. After that, they continued towards the border. We didn’t know what direction the situation would take,” Pavliuk says.
The school can accommodate approximately 80 refugees in bunk beds in the rooms previously used by school students. As the fighting dragged on, some of the refugees stayed at the shelter for weeks. Hungarian Interchurch Aid, a partner organisation of Finn Church Aid, provided the kitchen with new refrigeration equipment, numerous food deliveries, and a washing machine for the utility room.
Fathers stay on the front line
As a volunteer, Pavliuk has heard stories from various families fleeing fighting, and she feels moved recalling them. Many of those who’ve stayed at the shelter for longer don’t intend to cross the border to Hungary unless they absolutely have to. Many plan on returning home or at least as close to it as possible. Pavliuk understands them.
“Every morning I wake up feeling thankful for having had a peaceful night here (in western Ukraine). I have grown up here, I was born here, my parents and many generations before them have lived here. I can’t even begin to imagine leaving my home and my town just because some aggressor forces me to do so.”
Pavliuk deems witnessing the everyday life of mothers and children at the shelter particularly difficult.
“Most of the mothers are here alone with their children. Normally they live closely together with their husbands, and now the men are in the army. My heart hurts just thinking about them having to look after their children in a place they don’t really know. There are eight people living in each room, and they don’t know these people, even if now they’re slowly getting to know each other.”
Pavliuk sees a silver lining in the crisis: she says that the war and the consequential refugee crisis have made people work together in unprecedented ways. Just like Pavliuk, many people living in the border town of Berehove are citizens of two countries and cultures, and cohabitation hasn’t always been easy.
“I’m Hungarian by nationality, but I’ve lived on the Ukrainian side all my life, so I’m also Ukrainian. There have been disagreements between Hungarians and Ukrainians as well as other minorities in this area. I feel like things are no longer like that.”
Remote teaching started after pausing for weeks
Pavliuk says that before the war, people in her school were already looking forward to returning to business as usual after a long pandemic. Due to the war, the state of emergency in the school has continued. Already knowing how to teach and study remotely came in handy in late March, when the pupils in Berehove returned to remote teaching after a three-week break.
The children at the refugee shelter have been able to sign up for classes in Ukrainian schools in the town or continue studying with their own classes if their schools have been able to provide teaching. The children log in on classes in the computer classroom at the shelter.
Pavliuk’s Hungarian-speaking pupils stayed at home, as their school was still full of refugees. During the day, Pavliuk works at the shelter, and in the evenings, she prepares her English classes for the following day. She seems moved when she talks about her 12 to 18-year-old students.
“They’re teenagers. We have our ups and downs, but we can always find a solution to our difficulties. I love them.”
She already knows that some pupils have fled from Ukraine to Hungary and they won’t be coming back to her classes. Pavliuk takes a deep breath and looks around in her own empty classroom. What is her biggest wish?
“To be able to teach normal classes. I want to write on that blackboard and…,” she hesitates for a moment and starts laughing tiredly, “…yell at my students for not having done their homework.”
Just a month ago Dmitriy, 5, was playing with his friends. Now, the phone is alerting his family about air strikes in Ukraine
Four weeks of war, and over three million people have fled across the borders of Ukraine. A Ukrainian mother believes the next two months are crucial; she must be able to find work and send her kids to school. Finn Church Aid is helping refugees from Ukraine together with a Hungarian partner organisation.
“I HAVE SWEETS and a bottle of water, and here’s my cat. In Ukraine, I had a real cat, too,” says 10-year-old Maryanna whilst unzipping her light-coloured backpack in a playroom for refugee children set up at the airport in Budapest.
Maryanna takes out a pencil case and opens it. It’s full of colourful wristbands, necklaces, and rings. She has been busying herself with making baubles during her almost three-week long escape from Odessa in the south of Ukraine to Budapest, Hungary.
Maryanna, her sister Yelizaveta (5), mother Vironika, and grandmother Svetlana left their hometown soon after Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022.
During the first three weeks of the war, more than three million Ukrainians have fled to the surrounding countries, 1.5 million of them children. On top of this, there’s an immense number of internally displaced refugees within Ukraine, who’ve tried to make their way from the eastern parts of the country to the west.
It was a long way to Budapest from where Maryanna (10) and Yelizaveta (5) are from in Ukraine. The two sisters have only packed their most loved toys before fleeing the war. It was a long way to Budapest from where Maryanna (10) and Yelizaveta (5) are from in Ukraine. The two sisters have only packed their most loved toys before fleeing the war.
Some of them have found a place to stay with friends and family, some spend the nights at refugee shelters, and some are waiting for a lift at airports and railway stations. Many have left their homes in a hurry and packed only the most essential items.
“I packed everything myself. And by the way, I’ve made this myself, too,” Maryanna says, proudly pulling out of her backpack a small, dotted pillow. She says she laid hear head on the pillow again last night, when the family was travelling from Krakow to Budapest airport. The journey was long, but Maryanna tells she had a good night’s sleep. She describes having curled into a ball on two seats, her head on her self-made pillow.
A bed, food, and something to drink
There’s another family in the playroom for refugee children at the airport. Mother Kate Pugachova and her sons Daniil (8) and Dmitriy (5) are playing Uno.
Kate says the family had spent the previous night in a makeshift bed in the corner of the playroom. There are other facilities with beds for refugees at the airport.
“However, last night there were a lot of small children crying and making noise,” Kate says. She points at the blue-coated workers of the Hungarian Interchurch Aid, FCA’s partner organisation, who helped them set up a bed in a calmer environment.
“We don’t have to pay for anything, which is extremely important in this situation. The organisations here are doing so much to help people. They’re playing with the kids and offering food and drinks. We can rest and sleep. That’s of huge and important help to refugees. I’m actually pretty surprised about all this support,” Kate says, visibly moved.
“Just look at them. They’re laughing and playing,” she says, pointing at the children bustling around.
The journey has been long. Kate and the boys left their home in Dnipro on 8 March, and they’ve been on the road and staying with friends for nine days already. Kate says that she had listened to the air raid alerts for four or five days before she made the decision to leave. The boys had already learned to go to the bathroom for cover when they heard the sound.
“I was sitting in my kitchen with friends when we heard yet another alert. That day it lasted for three hours,” she describes.
The following day Kate left with her boys. A few days later they were reading news about air strikes in their hometown.
“I give myself two months”
Daniil and Dmitriy are giggling and piling up colourful blocks to build a tower in the corner of the playroom. By accident, they place a blue and a yellow block next to each other, and for a moment, the highest part of the tower boasts the colours of Ukraine.
Kate is glad to see the boys busy. Fortunately, they didn’t need to witness nor experience the destruction of the war in their hometown, but they’ve seen photos and videos of the aftermath from all around Ukraine.
According to Kate, the children don’t quite understand the situation. The activities in the playroom at the Budapest Airport have made the morning easier for the mother. What seems to concern the boys most at the time of the interview is the flight ahead.
“It’s their first. They’ve been asking the entire morning when, when, when, when is the time to board,” Kate says, shaking her head.
Daniil, Dmitriy and Yelizaveta enjoy the Budapest airport child-friendly space FCA have created together with their Hungarian partner HIA. Daniil, Dmitriy and Yelizaveta enjoy the Budapest airport child-friendly space FCA have created together with their Hungarian partner HIA.
The family is headed towards Turkey, where friends are waiting. They’re promised to let Kate and the boys stay for a month or two.
“I’ve decided to give myself two months,” Kate says.
After that, she’ll have to make a decision. Either she’ll get her documents sorted, look for a job in Turkey, and send her children to a Russian-speaking school – or return to Ukraine.
Her older son Daniil is on his second year of school already, but his schooling was cut short when the war started. The teacher has given classes remotely on Zoom every now and then, and Daniil has taken part, depending on the circumstances and connections.
School books were left behind in Dnipro, but the boy has used a notebook for his assignments. Kate deems education important but also says that it’s not the most pressing matter on her mind right now. First, she’ll need to find a safe place for her family, so she can give her mind a moment of rest.
Schools suffer from war
The impact of the war on children’s schooling is immense. Classes haven’t been run normally in Ukraine after the war started. Almost 500 schools in Ukraine have suffered damages due to bombing and shelling, and according to estimates, 69 of them have been completely destroyed. Maryanna, the girl who showed us the contents of her backpack, says she already misses going to school. She speaks excellent English and says English and math are her favourite subjects. She misses her friends the most.
“I have a lot of friends in Odessa, but now my best friend is in Germany.”
Maryanna’s teacher, too, organises remote teaching on Zoom. Maryanna has taken part in the classes as best she can, but it hasn’t always been possible. The long escape took the family first from Odessa to Lviv in western Ukraine, then Krakow and on to Budapest.
After the interview, Maryanna, her sister, mother, and grandmother are going to fly to Bulgaria, where their plan is to settle by the coast of the Black Sea for a while. Her father and grandfather are waiting for the women of the family.
Maryanna believes the family will return to their home in Odessa eventually. “But it’s a good idea to go to Bulgaria, because our Black Sea is there. There we’ll be close to Ukraine.”
An entire life in a single suitcase
A few hours later, Maryanna’s little sister Yelizaveta and Kate’s boys Daniil and Dmitriy are sitting in the corner of the playroom, playing with phones. The phone in the hand of 5-year-old Dmitriy vibrates, and he takes it to his mother.
“An air alert in Ukraine,” Kate reads, shaking her head, and gives the phone back to her son.
Kate opens the suitcase slightly and takes out a toothbrush and toothpaste. She nips to the airport loo to brush her teeth, puts the boys’ Crocs sandals in a plastic bag, and closes the suitcase.
Many families fleeing Ukraine are heading to friends and family living in the neighbouring countries.Many families fleeing Ukraine are heading to friends and family living in the neighbouring countries.
Kate has packed some of the family’s things in two plastic bags, because everything packed in just one suitcase exceeded the airline’s weight limit for luggage. In total, the luggage for the three-strong family – a suitcase and two plastic bags – weighs to the tune of 30 kilograms.
Soon it’s time to go. The boys put on their coats, and the family heads towards passport control. Kate hugs us, and we wish them luck for the journey.
I recall her earlier words. If things take a turn for the better, Kate and the boys will return to Ukraine.
“If it’s safe, if our schools are like they used to be. They might bomb a school tomorrow. Too many schools have been targeted.”
Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen Photos: Antti Yrjönen
FCA is helping refugees in Ukraine and Hungary
FCA works in Ukraine and Hungary in collaboration with its partner organisation, Hungarian Interchurch Aid. By the end of March, FCA have granted 500 000 euros to support the work.
Our work is situated in Lviv and Berehove in the west of Ukraine. Additionally, we offer support in the Hungarian village of Barabás, refugee shelters in Budapest, and the playroom for children at the international airport in Budapest.
We offer humanitarian emergency aid to families who’ve left their homes. In practice, this means food, drink, and hygiene products. The aid is delivered to local refugee shelters and offered at border crossings between Hungary and Ukraine.
In addition to urgent immediate aid, we are currently working on providing refugee children with opportunities to continue their schooling.
Finn Church Aid expands operation to aid people displaced by war in Ukraine
Finn Church Aid (FCA) announced on Monday that they are scaling up their response to the war in Ukraine by deploying staff in Ukraine and neighbouring countries and expanding their programs beyond immediate aid.
IN RESPONSE to the war, which has forced over three million people to flee Ukraine, FCA announced plans for a multi-country response that includes the deployment of staff to the Ukraine and Hungary. Currently, FCA supports Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA) who is assisting people in Hungary, the Transcarpathia region and in Lviv with food, water, hygiene items and life-saving medical equipment.
“Finns have donated generously to our response to aid those who have been affected by the war in Ukraine and we are responding now and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Our experience serving refugees in other countries, particularly in education, will be invaluable in assisting those inside and outside Ukraine, especially women and children,” says Jouni Hemberg, Executive Director, FCA.
15,254 people have already been assisted by the joint efforts of FCA and HIA by the delivery of seven million euro of life-saving medical equipment to Western Ukraine and 278 metric tons of food and other essential items to a number of locations where displaced people are located. HIA has established reception centres for those who have fled the conflict, both on the Hungary-Ukraine border and in Budapest.
“Some of these people have left their home in ten or twenty minutes – they have left everything behind. Their journey to Lviv and further has taken 24 hours or more. Some of the families have been living in shelters for days, even weeks. Their needs at the moment are acute – they are hungry, thirsty and exhausted,” says Ulriikka Myöhänen, FCA spokesperson, who has visited Lviv and other areas in Ukraine in the past week.
FCA is assessing more partners in countries hosting refugees from Ukraine
Staff from FCA will work in Hungary and Ukraine to support HIA with the management of the response, education in emergencies and communications. FCA is also assessing other partners so that they can expand their operations into other countries that are hosting refugees from Ukraine.
“We pray that peace will come soon but, even if it does, the war has already taken an unimaginable toll on Ukraine and its people. As experts in education, one of the things that we can do is ensure that children continue their education and we aim to find ways to do this for children who have been displaced by this conflict,” says Hemberg.
“All of them worry about the future, how to earn a living and how to get their children to school again,” says Myöhänen.
International Communications Specialist Melany Markham melany.markham[at]kirkonulkomaanapu.fi +45 9194 26709
FCA spokesperson Ulriikka Myöhänen ulriikka.myohanen[a]kirkonulkomaanapu.fi +358 50 576 7948 (on the ground in Ukraine and Hungary)
FCA grants its first euro 1/2 million to aid Ukrainians affected by the conflict
Finn Church Aid (FCA) today pledged euro 1/2 million of its emergency response to aid displaced families in Ukraine and Hungary.
OVER ONE MILLION euro has been donated to FCA since the beginning of on the 24 February and the first part of the grant will help meet the basic needs, such as food, blankets and sleeping bags, of those affected by the conflict in Ukraine and refugees that have arrived in Hungary.
Hungary has received tens of thousands of refugees from the Ukraine. FCA funds Hungarian Interchurch Aid, which works both in Ukraine and Hungary, who is distributing 28 tonnes of food at the border area.
“There has been a profoundly generous response to our appeal for those displaced by the conflict in the Ukraine,” says Jouni Hemberg, Executive Director of Finn Church Aid.
“We are sending half of the funds raised directly to our Hungarian partner, who has established operations in Ukraine and Hungary. At the same time, we are assessing the needs of these people as to how we can help in the days and weeks to come.”
While FCA currently supports those affected by the conflict in Ukraine, it also has the capacity to meet long-term needs, such as food, sanitation, psychosocial support, education in emergencies and livelihoods through its membership of the ACT Alliance.
The need for assistance in Ukraine enormous. In a country of over 40 million people 3 million were already in need of humanitarian assistance before the current war. The United Nations refugee agency estimates that over half a million people have already crossed borders into countries neighbouring Ukraine. The need for assistance is expected to increase dramatically in the following days. Many of those who have fled describe the haste with which they left and their difficult journey.
“The women of my family have decided to take our children away from danger. We went where the car was taking us, I don’t remember most of the journey. My children were asking where are we going and I couldn’t come up with an answer. We heard that the Polish border is completely jammed, so we decided to cross the mountains and try to make it into Hungary. My sister is still on the way, I have no idea where she or my nieces are,” said Yelena, a mother of three children.
“We’ve been standing here at this border checkpoint for more than five hours, it is cold and my children are freezing. It is amazing to see that people are here to help, and even just talking to you gives us hope for a better future ,” she said.
Images of Ukrainian refugees by Antti Yrjönencan be found here -credit Finn Church Aid/Antti Yrjönen For more information or interviews, please contact Melany Markham +45 9194 2670 melany.markham[a]kirkonulkomaanapu.fi
After two years of closures, Ugandan schools reopened and refugees eagerly returned to classrooms
Schools were closed in spring 2020 as Uganda went into lockdown due to COVID-19. Over fifteen million children were out of school, including more than 600,000 primary and secondary aged refugee students.
ISAAC MUNYUZA’S favourite subject is biology, and he dreams of becoming a doctor. Unfortunately, for the last year, he has been working as an unskilled labourer while schools in Uganda were closed to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Schools were closed in June 2021 as the country went into lockdown following a second wave of COVID-19. Over fifteen million children were out of school, including more than 600,000 primary and secondary aged refugee students.
Munyuza, who is eighteen, fled Congo with his parents and siblings in 2014 following the war that left hundreds of people dead and others injured.
“Life was hard in Congo. We were always terrified that soldiers would come and kill us. Because of the uncertainty, we decided to cross the border into Uganda and seek refuge,” he says as he sits on the doorstep of his home in Kyaka II refugee settlement in Western Uganda.
“Now I will be able to walk to school”
Munyuza is one of the students that will be joining Bukere Secondary School on January 10th 2022 when schools reopen. The new school was constructed in Kyaka refugee settlement by Finn Church Aid (FCA) with funding from the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.
“My new school has a laboratory so I will be able to do my practical lessons from there,” he adds.
“Bukere secondary school…its closer to home. Now I will be able to walk to school and arrive on time before classes start. I used to reach late at my former school because it was far, and I had to walk a long distance. Sometimes I would even miss school,” says Munyuza. Prior to the school closure, Munyuza was studying from Bujubuli secondary school which is about ten kilometres away from his home.
The new secondary school will help reduce the reduce the number of students in the classroom which is expected to be huge in January 2022. This is because each grade will have a double cohort of students that couldn’t move on to the next grade due to the pandemic.
“Construction of more classrooms to cater for the big number of students is underway, and we are equipping teachers with knowledge and skills to handle large classes once schools resume. We have given teachers, parents and learners psychosocial support to mentally prepare them for the reopening,” says Dennis Okullu Ogang, FCA´s Education Specialist.
“At Bukere Secondary school we have already enrolled over 250 students to attend senior one, two and three.” says Vallence Tukacungurwa the Head Teacher at Bukere Secondary school.
Schools with special support
During lockdown, FCA ensured that over 70,000 children at all levels could continue learning by providing home learning/self-study materials developed by the National Development Curriculum Centre (NCDC) to students. Children from vulnerable families were supplied with radio handsets and, teachers conducted live radio lessons. Home learning was further supported by small community learning groups and home visits.
Still, many students faced significant barrier to their education. Over 90,000 girls under 18 years have become pregnant while under lockdown according to a United Nations Population Fund 2020 report on teenage pregnancy and FCA is working hand in hand with the government to allow them to attend school.
“FCA is also rolling out the Ministry of Education ‘s policy on prevention and managing teenage pregnancy in schools in Uganda so that schools can accept girls who became pregnant during school closure by supporting them with counselling through the school system so that they can continue with learning” says Okullu Ogang.
One of these measures is a collaboration with the nearby health facilities so that they can assist in case of an emergency.
Another measure that aims to help these and other students complete their studies is the condensed curriculum for primary and lower secondary students. Funded by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (EU/ECHO), this will allow refugees and Ugandans who are now over school age to complete their studies.
Significant resources have also been spent so that children with disabilities will be welcomed into the classroom.
“We have established schools with specialized facilities for children with disabilities. We have set up a full-fledged Special Needs Education (SNE) School in Adjumani and an SNE specialised school in Kyaka refugee settlement to cater for children with severe disabilities. We have also recruited and deployed teachers who are specialised in SNE,” says Okullu Ogang.
Preparing for a safe return to the classroom
“Our teachers have been moving around the settlement sensitizing the community about the Standard Operating Procedures directed by the Government of Uganda to curb the spread of COVID-19. We have also mobilized to ensure that teachers get vaccinate,” says Tukacungurwa, adding that they have been informing people about the services available at the new school.
Preventing COVID-19 takes more than just talk and so FCA has provided equipment like infrared thermometers/temperature guns, handwashing stations, sanitizer, soap and facemasks to over one hundred schools and Early Childhood Development Centres within the refugee settlements.
“We have also trained school surveillance teams comprising of students, senior management members and teachers to be able to fully monitor adherence to COVID-19 prevention measures at the schools,” says Okullu Ogang.
FCA has done everything that they can to make sure that schools continue to be safe spaces for children to learn and staff are proud to open their doors again to classrooms. The staff at Bukere Secondary School have gone even further by making their school are pleasant environment to learn.
“Currently we are in the process of beautifying the school. We have planted trees, slashed the compounds and are cleaning all the facilities like the classrooms which have been unused for quite some time,” says Tukacungurwa.
Standing at the doorway of his new classroom, Munyuza appreciates their efforts. “I am excited to go back to school. I like my new school,” he says.