Where to find the courage to help during crises?

Aid workers at the core of crises – where to find the courage to help?

FCA staff in Ukraine, South Sudan and Syria face seemingly insurmountable challenges every day.

Text: Ruth Owen

WORKING IN CRISIS CONDITIONS means frequent threats to your safety and a constant challenge to your mental well-being. In this story, three FCA Country Directors share the unique challenges they face in their work amid conflict and humanitarian crises. They also reveal what inspires and motivates them to continue their work despite the challenges.

In the picture, a man standing in the middle of the buildings in the courtyard points his finger at something behind the photographer.
Seme Nelson, Country Director of Church Aid South Sudan, is motivated to see the change that his work brings. “Every time we witness a change, for example among children going to school, I get the feeling that our work is contributing to social change, improving people’s lives and opportunities to claim their rights.” Photo by Ulriikka Myöhänen / FCA

“Every time I come to work, I know that what I do has a direct impact on other people”

Seme Nelson studied peace, conflict and development studies at universities on three different continents. However, he decided to return to his native South Sudan, where he now heads the FCA’s Country Office.

“The challenges in South Sudan are manifold. The country is unstable and its economy is fragile. Many live in poverty, exacerbated by conflict, refugees and war in neighbouring Sudan.

South Sudan was basically founded on a background and legacy of violent conflict and internal civil wars. It’s continued to affect the entire stability of the state. We have also faced threats to our security at FCA. Our Pibor office was ransacked by local people in 2016 amongst widespread attacks on NGOs. And in 2022 our Fangak office destroyed fighting between armed groups, but our staff remain, as do I.

In 2020, I considered remaining in Japan, where I did my master’s degree. But I considered whether what I do would make a significant difference to people’s lives or not. When I remain here in South Sudan, every time I come to work, there is a very direct connection between what I do and how it impacts people.

What has continued to push our staff to continue to work despite the difficulties and challenges is the impact that our programme makes on the people. Every time you see these beautiful stories of change. From young people, mothers, kids who are able to go to school. You feel like our work is contributing to transforming societies, improving people’s access to livelihoods and helping citizens demand their rights.

When the Sudanese conflict broke out in 2022, a lot of Sudanese fled to South Sudan along with former South Sudanese refugees who decided to return to their country. At present, I think only five per cent of these refugees from Sudan are living in refugee camps or settlements inside South Sudan. Probably 80 per cent of them are housed by South Sudanese – people who have decided to open their homes to welcome Sudanese refugees to share the little that they have. The media always wants to document stories of suffering, of desperations, but for me I think we should highlight positive stories like these more.
 
Yes, my country is founded on a story of conflict and desperation – the process of state building has almost started from zero. But if we look at the infrastructural transformation of the country from 2005 when the second civil war ended, there has been a tremendous growth process. The country has a city called Juba that we’re proud of today, that never even existed before! Regardless the situation of desperation in this country, the generosity, strength and courage of people is something worth acknowledging.

“It is important to distinguish between political problems and solidarity with people who are suffering”

Mazen Khzouz’s home is in Jordan, but his work requires him to spend long periods away from his family. As FCA Country Director for Syria, he believes it is important for him to be close to the communities he works with.

A man with an FCA lanyard around his neck looks at the camera
Mazen Khzouz, FCA Country Director for Syria. Photo by Mohammed al-Masrab

“I’m not the kind of person who’s satisfied with only doing the basic in my life. I need to do more. I need to be closer to people who I serve.

Syria is suffering the effects of a long conflict, economic collapse and a devastating earthquake. The country is under severe sanctions, which are contributing to the impoverishment of the population and increasing suffering. Sanctions have led to a lack of access to all basic necessities and a lack of money. Prices have skyrocketed, purchasing power has been eroded and unemployment is very high. An estimated 90% of Syrians now live below the poverty line. The cost of living has more than doubled since 2023, as measured by the Minimum Expenditure Basket.

The security situation in Syria has improved in relative terms compared to the most difficult years of the conflict. Humanitarian actors are now in a better position to reach vulnerable groups. However, the security situation remains volatile and new outbreaks of violence are possible. Sporadic attacks, inter-group clashes and multiple checkpoints between population centres can also slow down progress in the areas where the FCA’s work is taking place. Journeys to schools and communities can take as long as three or four hours.

Social tensions increase during disasters. It gets frustrating when some people get help and others don’t, even though many need it. Tensions are also a risk for our employees. To mitigate them and ensure staff safety, we build strong relationships with community leaders and local actors.

When we understand that people are struggling to meet their basic needs – to feed and clothe their children – it is easy to understand their strong reactions. We at FCA Syria wish we could do more and reach even more of those in need.

All our employees are Syrian. Staff members have lost loved ones in war, earthquake and even cholera. It is common for one of our staff to help at least two or three other relatives or households with their income.

My family back in Jordan are wondering how much I can endure from the situation, but the proximity to the country helps a lot. I explain to my family we have a strong evacuation plan and I give them assurance that we are safe.

The media constructs a certain image of Syria, which influences the perceptions and opinions about the people and that’s a very big mistake. We need to differentiate between people who are suffering and whatever problems there may be in the political domain.

The Syrian people do not deserve to be mistreated. They are human beings. They have children. They deserve to live a decent life as much as you and I do.”

A woman is standing in front of the camera being interviewed by a television crew.
Patricia Maruschak, who grew up in Canada’s Ukrainian diaspora, returned to her roots in Ukraine when FCA was looking for a Country Director for its office in the war-torn country. Photo by Antti Yrjönen / KUA

“I miss my family, but I want to see Ukraine prosper and be free”

Patricia Maruschak is the granddaughter of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada and grew up in the Ukrainian diaspora. She lived and worked in Ukraine from 2006 to 2010, before returning in 2022 to head up the FCA Ukraine office.

Ukraine has been at full since its neighbour Russia invaded in 2022. Frequent air alarms across the country, when there is a threat of attack, lead to constant disruptions to daily life. This impacts greatly on children’s education and their psychological wellbeing, as well of that of their teachers.

Recently in Chernihiv, one of the schools where we have done repairs was damaged because there was a bombing very close to the school. The alarm went off, everyone went downstairs, and were standing for the daily moment of silence for the fallen. During that moment there were three huge explosions close by. Everyone had to immediately lie on the ground, the children were very scared. It’s the teachers’ job to keep them calm in a situation that’s uncertain for everyone. In the meantime, people from the street were also trying to get into the shelter.

All over the country, when an air alarm goes off, everyone has to go into the shelter. Teachers have to try and continue with learning where sometimes there’s no separation for classes. Imagine trying to continue a lesson with 7 or 8 year olds when there are now another 100 children in the room!

We train teachers in ‘psychological first aid’ to help children in the moment. Then we also train them in ongoing mental health support for kids, who have had trauma experiences, or have family members who are away fighting or have returned severely injured and have their own traumas. And then we also help teachers take care of themselves with coping strategies.

Many of our staff never worked in NGOs previously, coming mainly from the business community, but now they’re proud to be helping fellow Ukrainains.

Our procurement officer was an IDP (Internally Displaced Person) at the beginning of the war, because her community was occupied by Russian troops for a while. Meanwhile, our head psychologist has been displaced twice, firstly from Donetsk due to Russian occupation in 2014 and then from the south-east of the country when the fullscale war began in 2021. It’s not just a job for our people, it’s also their life.

I miss my family a lot. But there are clear needs here and the ability to make an impact in Ukraine is very high. We work with capable and experienced Ukrainian education experts. It’s a pleasure and a good challenge to work alongside them and personally, I want to see Ukraine succeed and be free and capable of making its own choices.”

Seme, Mazen and Patricia will speak at the World Village Festival in Helsinki on 25 May 2024.

FCA leads education access project in Ukraine as part of $18 million Education Cannot Wait grant

FCA leads education access project in Ukraine as part of $18 million Education Cannot Wait grant

Building on two years of success rehabilitating educational institutions in Ukraine, FCA is now leading a major new project supporting children and teachers in the Sumy, Pultava, Dnipro, Zapori-ja, and Odessa regions.

SINCE THE START of the full-scale war in Ukraine in 2022, hundreds of educational institutions have been damaged or destroyed. Recent estimates indicate more than 3,500 education institutions have been damaged, including over 340 destroyed.  

Meanwhile, on top of two years of remote learning due to the Covid pandemic, many schoolchildren have been robbed of the chance to attend school in person by the constant threat of air raids. 

Education Cannot Wait fund supports new FCA project

The Education Cannot Wait global fund awarded the total grant of $18 million USD to two separate consortiums, one led by FCA and the other by the Kyiv School of Economics Institute.

The consortium led by FCA and including Ukrainian partner organisations will be given $8.5 million USD to implement a new education project.

The ‘Empowering Children Through Education’ project will target children and teachers in Sumy, Poltava, Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia, and Odesa oblasts. 

Over 24 months, FCA and partners will rehabilitate and renovate schools and pre-schools to make them safe and modern places of learning. They will improve education quality by designing modular programmes for vocational education training, learning kits for use in shelters and specialised teacher training.  

Moreover, the group will continue to support extra-curricula activities, psychosocial training focusing on the mental health of children and teachers, and catch-up lessons for pupils returning to mainstream schooling. 

As part of ongoing education work in Ukraine, FCA works with psychologists who visit schools regularly. Psychologists help children process anxiety and worries through play and art. PHOTO: Antti Yrjönen/FCA

Says FCA Senior Education expert Pauliina Kemppainen, “this grant from Education Cannot Wait is a lifeline for many learners in Ukraine, in terms of continued learning and improved quality of online and distance education, which they have relied on since the Covid-19 pandemic, continuing until today. FCA and our Ukrainian partners are delighted to be able to continue supporting the education response in Ukraine, now with even more enhanced impact. 

Additionally, and in collaboration with Finnish educational experts, the programme will design teaching materials and train up to 5,000 secondary educators.  

Building on EU-funded education success in Ukraine

FCA Ukraine is already the consortium lead of the European Union-funded €19 million EUR project “Safe Return to Learning”, which has proven success in delivery quality education, training and support for children and teachers. 

“The situation in Ukraine is different compared to many contexts where international organisations are used to implementing education in emergencies programming, stemming from having a strong and functioning education sector even at the time of war.  FCA has been very fortunate to find long-term, local partner organisations and strong national teams with whom we can closely work together to ensure the relevance of the planned responses,” says Kemppainen.

Quality education needs improved infrastructure

By focusing on infrastructure, technological access, and the quality of education, the initiative not only addresses immediate needs but also invests in the future of Ukrainian society, something highlighted by Alexander Savka, FCA project manager in Ukraine.

“At the core of the programme is our commitment to not only rebuild but to innovate and enhance the Ukrainian education system. Our efforts to equip, educate, and empower are grounded in a vision of resilience, ensuring that every child, regardless of circumstance, has access to quality education. Together with our partners, we will develop programs that will engage over 30,000 beneficiaries across Ukraine and help improve educational programs for schools.”

A pile of Lenovo tablets with the FCA logo sit in the foreground, while children sit in the background
Laptops and tablets allow teachers to continue lessons outside of the classroom, for example in an air raid shelter. These were distributed in Slavutych thanks to the donation of a Finnish NGO.

Infrastructure support encompasses the purchase of 20,000 laptops for children cut off from traditional learning pathways, ensuring that distance learning becomes a viable and effective option.It also includes the repair and outfitting of shelters alongside the restoration of educational institutions damaged in recent times.

Moreover, the initiative places a strong emphasis on elevating the quality of education through the creation of digital content tailored for efficient distance learning. It also aims to refine educational programmes and teaching materials within the framework of the New Ukrainian School (NUS) curriculum reforms and vocational education reforms, marking a pivotal step towards modernising Ukraine’s educational offerings.

For more information contact:  

FCA Ukraine Communications Officer, Veronika Korobko
veronika.korobko(at)kua.fi

FCA Global Communications Officer, Ruth Owen
ruth.owen(at)kua.fi  

FCA’s work in Ukraine expands to vocational training

FCA’s work continues in Ukraine and expands to vocational education and training

In two years, the war has damaged 3,428 educational institutions and destroyed 365 schools in Ukraine. Over the past two years, Finn Church Aid has supported the schooling of Ukrainian children and young people, for example by providing shelters and psychosocial support.

The work continues in schools such as those set up in Kharkiv metro stations and has been extended to vocational education over the past year.

24TH FEBRUARY marks two years since the start of Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. The war has affected the lives of 7 million Ukrainian children and young people. In total, 3,428 schools and other educational institutions in Ukraine have been damaged and 365 have been destroyed beyond repair in the last two years (Source).

Finn Church Aid’s (FCA) humanitarian aid mission in Ukraine began shortly after the war broke out. Work is ongoing, particularly to safeguard education. FCA’s work in Ukraine includes building and equipping bomb shelters to protect education even during air raids, strengthening the skills of education professionals and psychosocial support for children, and supporting digital learning opportunities.

“Over the past two years, we have laid the foundations and built the networks to be known in Ukraine as a supporter of education,” said Ikali Karvinen, FCA’s Deputy Executive Director, who visited FCA’s areas of operation in Ukraine in early February.

Schooling in the middle of war requires special solutions such as underground metro schools

In Kharkiv, for example, the FCA has been working hard to ensure that more children have access to psychosocial support. In addition, FCA has supported the underground metro school with EU funding. The school was established in autumn 2023 and FCA has purchased materials and offered psychologists training so that they can provide psychosocial support lessons fo children. Kharkiv, in the east of Ukraine, has been the target of constant aerial bombardment since the beginning of the war, making it impossible to attend school under normal conditions.

The Kharkiv metro school now operates in two shifts. However, the metro school, with over a thousand pupils, is only a first aid measure in a situation where 110,000 children and young people from Kharkiv are enrolled in primary education.

A young school girl is sitting by a window reading her notebook in a classroom. There are other little students seated behind the girl.
Yuliaa Yurova, aged 6, in a classroom in Kharkiv Metro School. PHOTO: Antti Yrjönen / FCA

Access to classroom teaching is particularly important for young pupils. 6-year-old Yulia Yurova is one of the first to start school thanks to the metro school.

“I’m happy that my child was able to start local education from the first grade. It’s much more than I could give her as a mother in home education. My child is talkative and likes to be with other children. She is always eager to go to school,” says Natalia Yurova, mother of Julia.

According to the authorities, only about half of children and young people in Kharkiv attend school, which, with the exception of the metro school, is mainly distance learning. Many families in Kharkiv have been forced to flee abroad or to other parts of Ukraine, cutting off schooling for months or even years.

FCA’s work extends to vocational education and training

According to Deputy Executive Director Karvinen, work will continue in the long term in existing and new geographical areas. In Ukraine, FCA works in regions such as Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Zhytomyr and Kyiv.

“We will continue our work to ensure that children’s right to education is fulfilled and that schools have access to the necessary educational equipment and safe facilities,” says Karvinen.

FCA’s Deputy Executive Director Ikali Karvinen (right) visited Ukraine in early 2024. Country Director Patricia Maruschak (left) hosted the visit to some of the schools FCA is currently supporting in East Ukraine. PHOTO: VERONIKA KOROBKO / FCA

According to Karvinen, digital learning environments will be particularly important in the future. FCA has extended its work from basic education to vocational education and training.

“We are particularly interested in cooperation between companies and educational institutions,” says Karvinen.

Supporting education in a crisis context has two simultaneous objectives. Schools create a safe space for children to learn, deal with emotions and connect with other people. They also serve as a starting point for reconstruction.

“Only educated children and young people will be able to support society later on in the huge reconstruction needs that Ukraine will face as a result of the war,” says Karvinen.

“School creates hope both for today and for the distant future. An educated child is the engine that will help society change and overcome the crisis.”

Read more about the underground metro school.

Photos for media

For more information:

Deputy Executive Director, Mr. Ikali Karvinen, e-mail: ikali.karvinen(a)kirkonulkomaanapu.fi, tel. +358 40 509 8050

‘A grim milestone’ in Ukraine – average of 42 civilian casualties each day during two years of war.

An average of 42 civilian casualties each day during two years of war in Ukraine

A burned book lies in rubble

NGO members of the Humanitarian Platform in Ukraine, which includes FCA, call for the immediate protection of civilians in Ukraine and for promises made by states to address humanitarian needs to be fulfilled.

KYIV, 24 February 2024 – Two years since the escalation of war in Ukraine, more than 10,500 civilians have been killed, including 587 children, as constant bombardments, mines, and drone attacks have left a generation traumatised, displaced and fearful for their lives, said 51 members of the Humanitarian NGO Platform in Ukraine.

With an average of 42 civilians killed and wounded per day, and recent months being particularly deadly, the group, made up of local and international organisations working in the country, is calling for the immediate protection of civilians, and reminds member states of promises made to tackle dire humanitarian needs of people in Ukraine.

Explosive weapons cause life-changing injuries

More than 87% of the people killed or injured, or 9,241 people, are casualties of explosive weapons, with many of the injuries life-changing in nature, including the loss of limbs or eyesight. The number is understood to be a vast undercount, as the UN continues to corroborate the figures. At the same time, people across Ukraine far from the frontlines also need support to rebuild their lives and recover.

“My daughter is growing up in the basement now,” says Sviatlana. “She and her 7-year-old daughter decided to stay in Kherson, an area that comes under heavy bombardment… “The longest time we had in the dark without electricity was 1.5 months, so now when there is a blackout I try to joke with my daughter, ‘what is one day, we already had way worse’. …Now there is only waiting and surviving. She is just a kid and wants to play outside on the playground, but she cannot leave the basement.”

Two years of renewed fighting has destroyed lives, homes and livelihoods, leaving 14.6 million people, including nearly 3 million children, in desperate need of humanitarian assistance across Ukraine. Nearly 80% of those in need of aid also require mental health support. The poverty level in Ukraine increased five-fold – 24 percent up from 5 percent – in 2022 alone.

Most displaced people wish to return home

Because of ongoing violence, about 4 million people are still displaced within Ukraine and more than 5.9 million were forced to flee to neighboring countries. Even though 67% of those internally displaced say they want to return home someday, many are unable to return to their homes as the war has shattered their communities, and livelihoods.

Many displaced people struggle to integrate in their new communities, where it is difficult to find jobs and housing. Women make up 58% of the internally displaced, and are more likely than men to experience unemployment and dependency on humanitarian aid.

Vulnerable groups are disproportionately affected by the ongoing war. Existing inequalities, including those facing children, Roma people, LGBTQIA+ people, older people and people with disabilities, are only increasing as the long-term, as compounding effects of the crisis drive specific needs.

“Life is far from normal”

Joanna Garbalinska, Director of the Humanitarian NGO Platform in Ukraine, said:

“As the war continues, life is far from normal. Civilians are living day-to-day under the threat of missiles and shells, which continue to hit populated civilian areas, inflicting death and destruction to areas near and far from the frontlines.

“The Humanitarian NGO Platform in Ukraine calls for all attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure to cease immediately, particularly in dense urban areas, as they may amount to grave violations of international humanitarian law. Civilians must always be protected from violence.

Today marks a grim milestone of the war in Ukraine. As the fighting heads into its third year since the escalation, humanitarian agencies in Ukraine remind member states of promises made to tackle this crisis. Today, humanitarian support is more needed than ever. Long-term funding commitments for humanitarian and recovery efforts – with Ukrainian civil society in the lead – are critical for the safety of civilians and for Ukraine’s future.”

The Humanitarian NGO Platform in Ukraine is an independent coordination body with 78 Ukrainian and international NGO members who are operational and delivering humanitarian assistance in Ukraine. The NGO Platform is dedicated to serving and facilitating the work of its members to efficiently and effectively address the humanitarian needs of conflict affected people.

Finn Church Aid’s work in Ukraine focuses on education, psychosocial support and rehabilitation of school structures. The war that started in February 2022 has damaged thousands of schools, of which hundreds are entirely destroyed.

—-

NGO Signatories:

  • “БО “”МБФ “”Руки друзів””// Friends’ Hands
  • ACTED
  • Action Against Hunger (ACF)
  • ActionAid
  • ГО “АЛЬЯНС.ГЛОБАЛ” // ALLIANCE.GLOBAL, Public Organization
  • arche noVa
  • CARE
  • Caritas Ukraine
  • Caritas Zaporizhzhia
  • Corus International
  • CUAMM – Doctors with Africa
  • Danish Refugee Council
  • Estonian Refugee Council
  • ГРОМАДСЬКА ОРГАНІЗАЦІЯ “ЕДКЕМП УКРАЇНА” // Public Organization “EDCAMP UKRAINE”
  • FHI 360
  • Fida International Ukraine
  • Finn Church Aid
  • Help-Hilfe zur Selbsthilfe
  • Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation
  • Humanity & Inclusion – Handicap International (HI)
  • humedica e.V.
  • International Rescue Committee
  • INTERSOS
  • La Chaîne de L’espoir
  • Lutheran World Federation
  • MAG (Mines Advisory Group)
  • Medair
  • Médecins du Monde International Network
  • Medical Teams International
  • Mercy Corps
  • Nonviolent Peaceforce
  • Norwegian Refugee Council
  • Oxfam
  • People in Need
  • Plan International
  • Premiere Urgence Internationale
  • Right to Protection
  • Save the Children
  • Solidarités international
  • Stichting Vluchteling (The Netherlands Refugee Foundation)
  • Terre des Hommes
  • Паросток// Parostok
  • UK-Med Ukraine
  • Ukrainian Red Cross Society
  • Українська фундація громадського здоров‘я // Ukrainian Foundation for Public Health
  • Welthungerhilfe
  • World Vision International
  • ZDOROVI
  • ГО “Дівчата”// NGO “Girls”
  • ГО «ГІ Допоможемо Разом» //NGO “Will Help Together”
  • Єдність чеснот//NGO “Unity of Virtue”

Pupils in Kharkiv are now studying underground

Pupils in Kharkiv are now studying underground – however, metro schools are only the first line of aid for the education crisis facing the city 

Schools located at Kharkiv metro stations bring together children who have persevered through the pandemic years and now live under the constant threat of air raids. Finn Church Aid arranges psychosocial support for the children so that life can slowly return to normal.

Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen 
Photos: Antti Yrjönen 

STAIRS TAKE you from a wide street to the underground, just like in any big city. The undulating sound of the metro echoes through the corridors. People come and go about their day, as has been done here under the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv for decades.  

In late 2023, it is the small people who catch your attention. They dig books out of their backpacks all the while metro trains stop at the station as scheduled. 

“We have pupils from the first through to the fourth grade studying here. The morning shift includes 128 pupils. A new set of pupils will come in the afternoon”, says Anzhela Malahova, looking through a stack of papers in front of her. She goes on to say that metro schools have been set up at five Kharkiv stations. 

Today, Malahova serves as the metro school’s deputy head teacher. Her own school is closed, as is also the case for all the other schools located above ground in Kharkiv. Pupils are studying remotely for the fourth year in a row: First, there was the COVID-19 pandemic and that was followed by the major Russian offensive. The war front has already moved further east, but Kharkiv is still the target of air raids. At worst, the sirens sound several times a day and it is not possible to organise classes in actual schools.  

“I’m happy that we are finally able to gather together”, Malahova says, wiping the corners of her eyes and gesturing in the direction of the classrooms built at the station. 

käytävä, jossa reppuselkäisiä lapsia

A new day begins. The children go to the classrooms in the Kharkiv metro school.

Kharkiv metro has been serving the city for half a century

The Kharkiv metro network was completed in 1975 to meet the needs of the growing city. In recent years, up to 240 million passengers have passed through its tunnels every year. 

The underground network took on a new, life-protecting role starting in February 2022 when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It is estimated that up to 160,000 civilians sought shelter in the metro during the worst of the fighting. As the war dragged on, the city’s education management began to consider whether metro stations could also be used as safe schools.  

In autumn 2023, schools were set up at five metro stations. Now, there are children sitting at their desks and chattering happily, although they will soon settle down to study mathematics and the Ukrainian language. This is also the case for Julija Yurova, who is wearing a green dress and has her hair in a ponytail. 

“I’m five years old”, the girl starts her introduction in a brisk fashion. Then, she slaps her forehead with both hands and exclaims: “No! I’m already six!” 

Yurova says that she recently celebrated her birthday. She goes to school at the metro station three days a week. Julija Yurova always travels to school with her mother or father, but she seems to have no idea how many stops away home is.  

“It’s not a long trip”, she says with certainty. 

Julija Yurova (right) studies at the metro school with her good friend Karolyna Havrysheva.

The majority of children in Kharkiv study online

Yurova and her schoolmates are lucky. Watching them bustle around, it is hard to imagine what a remote school day in front of screens would look like for the 5–9-year-olds.  

However, the metro schools with their just over a thousand pupils are only the first line of aid in a situation where 110,000 children and young people are enrolled in basic education in Kharkiv. According to official data, only about half of them take part in classes which are mainly organised remotely. Many families have ended up as refugees abroad or elsewhere in Ukraine. 

Julija Yurova also fled with her family, but later returned to her native city. She holds a pencil tightly in her hand and copies some squiggly letters in an exercise book. Occasionally, she lets out a frustrated snort, grabs an eraser from the drawer and wipes everything away. Learning the letters seems to be a meticulous job. 

The conversation with Yurova begins to flow when the topic of the necklace hanging around her neck comes up. It says BFF on it, which is short for Best Friends Forever.  

“My family and I were refugees in Ternopil in western Ukraine. I met my best friend there who gave me this piece of jewellery. Now, we go to metro school together in Kharkiv. We are three best friends in the same class”, Yurova explains.  

The pupils of Kharkiv metro school dancing between lessons.

Julija Yurova received a piece of jewelry from her best friend, whom she met while being displaced in Ternopil.

Ukrainian children need support in dealing with trauma

One Monday in November, something new is happening at the metro school. Two school psychologists trained by Finn Church Aid are coming to hold a lesson to deal with trauma through play and attend to the pupils’ psychosocial well-being.  

The topic of the first lesson is emotions. The lesson starts with an exercise where each pupil introduces themselves and comes up with a funny movement or sound to accompany the introduction. The psychologists’ voices are playful like in a children’s programme and the children follow the lesson with concentration. Towards the end of the lesson, the psychologists dig out a colourful parachute, and the children burst with joy. They take turns throwing the parachute into the air and crawling under it. The roar of laughter is deafening.  

“The lesson was a success. The aim was to relax the body and mind, build team spirit and play together”, says Olha Zinovieva, who has worked as a child psychologist for 14 years. 

Her colleague Alina Symonenko has also worked as a psychologist in a kindergarten for 16 years. Zinovieva and Symonenko’s message is clear: Ukrainian children are carrying a heavy burden within them due to the difficult conditions. Many have attended classes remotely for years, many have family members on the front lines and loved ones of some of the children have also been killed or wounded. 

“The children are more fearful and aggressive than before. They would like to talk to each other, but don’t know how because they have been alone so much. When they finally meet their peers, there’s a lot of conflict in the air. They simply don’t have the skills to deal with other children”, Symonenko says.  

Psychologists Olha Zinovieva and Alina Symonenko hold a lesson on psychosocial support for children. The first session is about getting to know each other.

At the Kharkiv metro school, children deal with their traumas and other things that bother them through play and games.

Encountering each other at the metro school helps the children catch up to what would be a more normal school experience, but in the big picture, returning to how things were will take a lot of time and resources. Because of the war, Ukraine has enormous needs both in terms of people’s well-being and the reconstruction of the infrastructure.  

Volodymyr Grebennik, an engineer working in the Kharkiv office of Finn Church Aid, says that as many as 120 schools in the city have suffered damage in the war according to official data. Four of the schools are beyond repair and only 33 schools have already been refurbished with funds from the city. In a country at war, there is not enough money to repair all the damage. As of summer 2023, Kharkiv has been seeking external funding from abroad to enable pupils and school staff to eventually return to in-person teaching above ground. 

Face-to-face learning increases interaction

At around noon, the metro school’s morning shift is over. Wearing her backpack, Julija Yurova waits for her mother, who is coming to pick her daughter up today.  

“I’m glad that my child has been able to attend in-person classes starting from first grade”, says mother Natalia Yurova over the clatter of the metro as they make their way home.  

“In-person teaching is really important because of the interaction. It’s much more than what I, as her mother, could offer her in homeschooling. My child is talkative and likes to be around other children. She is always eager to go to school”, the mother continues, looking at her daughter, who is sitting among her fellow passengers with her backpack. 

We soon find out that Julija Yurova’s journey to school is not long indeed: Her home is only one metro stop away. She quickly jumps onto the platform, grabs her mother’s hand and waves after us.  

She has a pet cat waiting for her at home.  

Julija Yurova, 6, travels to school by metro like many other students of the metro school.

Parents accompany the youngest students to the metro school in the morning and pick them up back home in the afternoon. Natalia Yurova (right) considers it important that her daughter meets children her own age at school.

FCA has supported Kharkiv’s metro schools in purchasing materials and offered training to teachers to provide psychosocial support lessons for the children. The work is supported by EU funding. 

Kids’ clubs provide oasis of normality for Ukraine’s children

 

Kids’ clubs provide oasis of normality for Ukraine’s children

FCA supports after school and holiday clubs in Chernihiv for children. Provided by local Ukrainian NGO DOCCU, they provide fun and inclusive spaces where teachers, children, and their parents can gain new knowledge and skills.

FROM BLARING SIRENS and shelling to conducting lessons in shelters: for more than a year and a half of war in Ukraine, it may seem that children have become used to these daily realities.

Observing schoolchildren, it’s nowadays commonplace in Ukraine to see drawings of tanks, blue and yellow flags sketched with chalks on the playground and games where kids play ‘checkpoint’, pretending to look over adult’s documents. War has filtered down to every level of children’s lives.  For most, it’s taken a toll that is more or less obvious in each child.

Dmytro, is an internally displaced person. For two weeks, while attending children’s activities organised at a local school in Talalaivka, Chernihiv region, he was mostly silent, constantly building figures out of LEGO. But at the end of the second week, he started talking.

A boy in a patterned sweater and a red baseball cap stands outside in a field and looks just past the camera with a calm expression

“I was born in Crimea. When the war started, I moved to Mykolaiv. Then from Mykolaiv to my grandmother in Kherson.

We had no food for 28 days. I saw airplanes, I saw armoured personnel carriers, I saw a mine on the road. It’s calmer here, at least there are no mines.”

Dmytro, KOLO club participant.

Dmytro was taking part in special children’s clubs, set up by Ukrainian NGO DOCCU. The so-called ‘KOLO Clubs’ specialise in supporting the education system in the communities of Chernihiv Oblast. This includes organising leisure activities for children after school and during the holidays, but also training teachers to provide psychosocial support for children.

Summer clubs and more

The KOLO Clubs format was launched in summer 2022. It continued this year (2023) with not only a second summer club, but also after-school clubs for children running through the autumn.  

A yellow canopy in front of a school. Beanbags lie under the canopy.
KOLO clubs take place in the Chernihiv region and accommodate more than 2500 children.

Dmytro was one of more than 2500 children who attended KOLO Clubs activities in the Chernihiv region. In addition to entertainment, such as board games, drawing, or master classes, children are also offered educational activities in the areas of democracy and human rights, media literacy and Internet safety, active citizenship, mine safety, psychological support, and STEM education.

Some classes are conducted by coaches, such as professional actors, media literacy specialists, or English language coaches. All classes are fun and easy, using all the necessary materials mentioned above to help children learn the material as best they can.

A smiling woman in a pink flowery top sits in a room with many multi-coloured beanbags. A child sits closely next to her.

“My child always comes home with positive emotions: she talks vividly about the day, which is extremely busy. There wasn’t even a free minute to look at the phone or anything else: she was always doing something.

I believe that sessions with a psychologist are extremely useful and necessary for our children. They have had a positive impact on the children, particularly on my daughter.”

Maria Zavodenko, mother of Nadiya, a KOLO Clubs attendee

Teaching Training

As part of the clubs, not only schoolchildren acquire new knowledge, but teachers of the region are also trained. They learn how to act in emergencies (during evacuations, first aid, mine safety), how to keep students safe in shelters, digital competence and interactive tools for online and blended learning, and courses on mental health and psychosocial support.

The project also includes training for professionals working with children with special educational needs. In total, the training will cover about 850 educators in Chernihiv region by the end of 2023.

A woman stands under a yellow canopy next to a sign in Ukrainian

“I saw quite significant changes in the children, because I have known many of them for a long time. They learned to work in a team, learned to restrain their emotions, and sometimes to show them vividly.

After psychological relief, it became quite easy for them to communicate and unite with children from other communities who came to visit.”

Tetiana Panchenko, coordinator of the KOLO Club in the Mykhailo-Kotsiubynska community.


Repair of educational spaces

The design of the future KOLO club spaces was developed by students.

New educational spaces are also part of the project. For teachers, a modern professional training center for teachers will be created in Chernihiv at School No. 19, which was damaged at the beginning of the war. After the school building is repaired, the centre will be equipped with new furniture and equipment necessary for further teacher training. The centre will operate on a permanent basis and come under the Chernihiv Department of Education.

KOLO clubs will also operate on a regular basis in the four schools where the activities are currently taking place. School libraries are being renovated and will be converted into modern media libraries. Thanks to the project, these media libraries will be filled with everything necessary for active and interesting extracurricular activities.

A boy in a baseball cap and a green vest smiles and shows the thumbs up sign

“For me, KOLO Clubs is a good experience, it’s just a great place!”

Bohdan, a student of Talalayivka Lyceum.

Kids design their own spaces

The design of the future KOLO club spaces was developed by students. During their active citizenship classes, the children developed projects and chose the best ones by voting. They were used as the basis for the design of future spaces in Chernihiv, Kulykivka, Talalaivka, and Andriivka.

The creation of such spaces will make it possible to conduct active, useful, and rich extracurricular activities after the completion of the KOLO Clubs project, which runs until the end of November 2023. And such work is paying off.

A woman stands outside and looks past the camera. She looks pensive and listening

“We had a case when the child of primary school age came and hardly spoke: it was very difficult for him to express his opinion, difficult to communicate with children, very reserved.

And in two weeks, while they were working with us in the classroom, while they attended various activities, the child opened up a lot: he started to communicate, found friends, and was excited to go home after classes.”

Olena Mozol, a psychologist at the KOLO Clubs location in the Kulykivka community.

Children listen to and play guitar at a KOLO club.

Each of the visitors to the clubs has their own life experience: there are many internally displaced children, children who have survived the occupation or active hostilities in their locality, many children have parents at war, and, unfortunately, some have been killed.

The work of kids’ clubs goes towards helping children not to be trapped by the realities in which they live. And for parents and teachers, the clubs allow them to raise an active and responsible future generation in the midst of war.

This is a guest contribution from DOCCU
All photos courtesy of DOCCU

FCA supports KOLO Clubs in the Chernihiv region. Find out more about our work in Ukraine

FCA signs memorandum of understanding with Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine

FCA signs memorandum of understanding with Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine

Two men sit at a table exchanging documents while smiling. A Ukrainian and Finnish flag is on the table next to some flowers.
Oksen Lisovyi, Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine, and Tomi Järvinen, FCA Executive Director, exchanging documents in Kyiv. Photo: Antti Yrjönen

On November 6 in Kyiv Tomi Järvinen, FCA Executive Director and Oksen Lisovyi, Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine signed a memorandum of understanding. The memorandum aims to consolidate efforts at enhancing educational sector of Ukraine. 

AT THE SIGNING, Minister Lisovyi said, “Today, it is especially important for us to support children’s and youth’s bids for education and help them fill them knowledge gaps caused by COVID-19 pandemic and war outbreak.”

Tomi Järvinen highlighted that it is important for children and youth to have a vision for the future even amid the crisis. 

“In addition, we need to understand what the war’s cost is for mental health. We need to do all we can so that the children and youth get the support they need”, he said.

Furthermore, Minister Lisovyi underlined the importance of psychosocial support and said that the role of partner organisations is crucial, as Ukraine lacks internal resources due to the ongoing war.

A long term agreement on education

In line with the memorandum the parties agreed to cooperate on:

  • Rehabilitation of damaged buildings and provision of shelters in educational institutions.
  • Establishment of safe and inclusive learning environments.
  • Building capacity of educational institutions and stakeholders to provide better quality and inclusive education.
  • Providing capacity building and educational activities on MHPSS (Mental Health and Psychosocial Support).
  • Supporting the renewal of educational content.
  • Support of education stakeholders in overcoming learning losses.
  • Supporting the development of socio-emotional and interpersonal skills of teachers and students.
  • Support access to quality education and training for the most vulnerable groups. This includes people with disabilities, veterans and IDPs (Internal Displaced Persons).
  • Ensuring better transition from education to employment through development and implementation of labour marked demand-driven education and training programmes.

The memorandum extends for five years from the day of its signing with the possibility of renewal after this time.

Read more about our work in Ukraine.

Across the world, FCA’s local workers come face to face with catastrophes both in their work and in their personal lives 

Across the world, FCA’s local workers come face to face with catastrophes both in their work and in their personal lives 

Karam woke up when the earth started to shake. Marianna fled a war. Susan skips workdays to fetch water. These FCA workers now tell us what it’s like to live in the middle of a catastrophe. 

DID YOU KNOW that Finn Church Aid employs over 3 000 people? Or that 95 % of them are locally hired experts? Our local workers are the most crucial part of our relief work. For many people, catastrophes are a remote affair – for them, they’re a part of everyday life. 

In this article we meet some FCA experts who have lived through the war in Ukraine, the drought in East Africa and a devastating earthquake in Syria. They don’t see their work as just a job. What is at stake for them is the future – for their families and for their countries.

A man poses for a photograph.
Syrian Karam Sharouf has lived his entire adult life surrounded by catastrophes: a decade of war, pandemic and in February 2023, a devastating earthquake tore down thousands of homes and schools in North Syria. PHOTO: KARAM SHAROUF / FCA

Karam Sharouf from Syria has lived through a variety of catastrophes for his entire adult life. Still, he sees light at the end of the tunnel.  

“It started with a bomb-like sound, just like what we have been hearing throughout the war. I thought we were under attack again. Eventually, I realized that the earth was shaking. 

It was the morning of February 6, 2023. I was asleep in our home, on the fourth floor of a building, in the Syrian capital Damascus. In a state of shock, I grabbed my wife and child. Things were falling and breaking apart around us, but fortunately there were no injuries.  

I am Syrian. I am 33 years old. I have lived my entire adult life surrounded by catastrophes: a decade of war, then the pandemic, now a devastating earthquake. Our country is going from a crisis to crisis, and many Syrians are just waiting for a chance to get out.  

I have been working with FCA since 2019, when I became FCA’s first local worker in Syria. Even before that, however, I had ten years of experience in the organization. The earthquake has kept us extremely busy. In Syria, we have not had the opportunity to prepare for catastrophes like the earthquake and the pandemic, since we have dealing with bombs and attacks for the last decade. How to deal with something like an earthquake? We have had no idea.  

Just before the quake, Finn Church Aid had expanded its reach to Aleppo, as well as Raqqa, often remembered as the capital of ISIS. People in these cities have been living under enormous pressure and, after all the bad things that have happened, all they have wanted is a moment of calm. What they did not need was another catastrophe, like this earthquake – causing many to lose their homes or families. 

So, all things considered, it’s all very difficult, but I still see light at the end of the tunnel for us Syrians. That’s what keeps me going. After all, our mission is making people feel empowered. 

The future of Syria depends first on us, the locals, even if the international community’s help is also necessary. When people work hard for their country, this creates a sense of togetherness and unity. What annoys me is how white people treat us Middle-Easterners. I’ve seen none of that while at FCA, even though we are in constant contact with Finland and our other countries of operation. Almost all of the staff at FCA’s Syria office are Syrian. That is quite exceptional and gets us a lot of positive feedback. 

Marianna Zhurbenko, who has fled the war in Ukraine, would not hesitate to open her home to other refugees. 

A Ukrainian woman sits by a desk. There is a laptop on the desk.
Marianna Zhurbenko fled the war herself before becoming a humanitarian worker. She now works as planning coordinator in FCA. PHOTO: Antti Yrjönen / FCA

“I remember staring incredulously at the sky from the window of my home in Gostomel, west of Kiev. It was 24 February 2022, helicopters were flying overhead, and my phone kept ringing incessantly as my friends called in distress, telling me and my family to flee. All the sudden the war had started, and the front line was only 500 metres from our home. It felt like they were playing a movie just outside our window. 

The artillery fire started in the evening. That’s when my husband and I decided to flee. We packed our 9-year-old son, our six-month-old baby, and our dog into the car. We fled first to Kyiv and then to western Ukraine.  

I and my sons lived there for the next few months. I stayed awake, listened to my 9-year-old crying. Fortunately, the baby didn’t understand anything about the situation.  

Unknown families took us in to live with them. We tried to offer them payment for water and electricity, and they refused to accept it. The war has united us Ukrainians like never before. I, too, would open the door to other families if they were facing such a situation.  

My own values have also been changed by the war. Material goods no longer matter to me, while life, health, family, and love are vastly more important than before. 

We were able to return home in May 2022. Kyiv was empty and our yard was full of mines and ammo fragments. The mines were cleared, and now our children can play there safely again. 

Before the war, I was a supervisor in a sewing company. After we returned home, it soon became clear that this couldn’t continue. Although my workplace had not been destroyed in the fighting, all the workers had fled elsewhere and had no intention of returning.  

I started in June as a planning coordinator at the Finn Church Aid. I’m in charge of obtaining aid and making sure that all aid going to FCA’s schools, for example, finds its way there.  

I was an internally displaced person and I know how that makes people feel. It’s great to be able to help children, and I like what I’m doing here.” 

A Kenyan woman poses for a photograph.
Susan Abuba Jackson fled to Kenya from South Sudan in 2017. She now works in a refugee camp as a teacher. PHOTO: BJÖRN UDD / FCA

Susan Abuba Jackson, living in a Kenyan refugee camp, is a teacher. Sometimes, however, she must spend a whole working day just fetching water. 

“I am a teacher. The ongoing drought makes life hard for my students, but also for me. I have five children at home. Some days, instead of going to work, I must fetch water to keep my children from suffering. If I can’t feed myself, I don’t have the energy to teach. There are four of us teachers in the school. The class sizes are so huge that teaching while hungry and thirsty becomes impossible. 

I came to Kenya from South Sudan in 2017, fleeing the war. I remember seeing one person shot I fled with my children here to Kenya while my husband stayed in South Sudan as a soldier. 

I worked as a teacher in South Sudan for 12 years. Upon arrival here, I started as a primary school teacher. For the last two years, I have been working as a kindergarten teacher in a school run by Finn Church Aid in the Kalobeyei refugee camp. 

I like working with children. They are flexible, they learn quickly and are very outspoken. Early education is also especially important for children. It is foundational to all sorts of learning.  

The drought is currently our biggest problem. Normally we have 500 pupils, but many are dropping out of school because there is no water in the school, either. We can’t even offer them food if there is no water. 

The children here have a lot of special needs. Many have seen war, have been traumatized. Their parents may have died, and they may be living alone with older siblings. It is up to us to look after these children and make sure they get a good education, but in a situation like this, that is very difficult.” 

Text: Björn Udd
Translation: Tatu Ahponen

Ukraine: One year of war

Ukraine: One year of a war that shattered lives and put millions in need

All photos unless indicated: Antti Yrjönen

On 24 February 2022 the world changed for Ukrainians. After Russia’s invasion, millions of people became refugees, displaced within and without the borders of their country. Children were especially affected with schooling interrupted and families often split up.

SINCE THE very start of the war, FCA has supported Ukrainians with humanitarian aid, working with our partners. Now, we are heading a multi-million euro project to make sure children can continue to access quality education safely, whether in Ukraine or elsewhere. This is the story of Ukraine and FCA in the past year.

A timeline shows five different phases with 'phase 1' highlighted. Phase 1 - people on the move. Phase 2 - sheltering. Phase 3 - 
coming back. Phase 4 - preparing for the winter. Phase 5 looking to the future.

Phase 1 – people on the move

After Russia invades Ukraine, many people are forced to flee their homes leaving most of their belongings behind. Most are women and children. Not knowing where they are going or for how long, and often forced to leave fathers, brothers and grandfathers behind, the stress on people is huge.

FCA WORKS with partner organisation, Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA) to provide food, warm clothes, hygiene items and places to rest along the way.

A group of women and children sitting in front of a big window
Tyttö pitää sylissään toista, pienempää tyttöä.

Alina, 10, holds 3-year-old Emilia in her arms at a refugee aid post in the
village of Barabás, close to the Ukrainian-Hungarian border.

Escaping with nine children

A kindness of a friend meant Masha & her nine children could flee Zaporizhzhia, near the Crimean Peninsula.

The car they owned only had five seats, so her husband asked his friend for a minivan. His friend handed over the keys, no questions asked.

“As I was travelling I was crying. I was very upset. I was scared and afraid that something would happen on the way,” says Masha.

They packed pillows, blankets, documents & warm clothes as well as 3 violins for some of the musical children. One child had to leave their beloved piano behind.

When they finally arrived in Hungary Masha’s daughter, Alina (10) met a friend Emilia (3) at the aid post in Barabás where FCA’s partner, Hungarian Interchurch Aid distributed aid.

Alina brought one toy, her clothes and a colouring book with her. She gave the colouring book to another girl as they were on the journey, because the girl had no toys with her.

Fundraising begins

An illustration of a pair of hands with a euro currency sign in the middle

1 million euros within 4 days

Millions of Ukrainians are fleeing, often with nothing more than a small bag. FCA launches a fundraising campaign, raising 1 million euros within 4 days to provide refugees with emergency aid.

A man in a KUA green vest is collecting money in a box outside in the street. A person is contributing to the collection.

People give generously to help Ukrainian refugees during the first days of the war.
Photo: Saara Mansikkamäki

Families fleeing

In the first few days of the war, the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, estimates that over half a million people cross borders into countries neighbouring Ukraine.

The first wave of refugees are mostly women with children. Exhausted and scared, the first stage is to give them urgent items, like food, warm clothing and shelter and, in many cases, psychosocial support.

VIDEO: FCA staff were in the small village of Barabás Hungary where refugees were being welcomed
A woman holds a cat

Fleeing Kyiv wasn’t Kristina’s first experience of escaping fighting. She had left the place of her birth, Luhansk, in 2014 for the safety of Ukraine’s capital. Now that was no longer safe.

“It wasn’t so simple to leave. It was so crowded, people couldn’t get into the train.”

A woman holds a cat

Kristina & her cat, Lisa, managed to squeeze onto a train to the border with Hungary, where she received assistance.

“My husband, his family, my brother, my aunt, my uncle, they stay in Kyiv. Most of my friends are in Kyiv too. It’s terrible. We have just emotion and crying.”

An older woman in glasses looks at the camera

Nadiya was at home when the first bombs hit near her house in Kharkiv, which is located near an army base. The attacks were loud & frightening. She doesn’t remember leaving.

“My kids just took me with them.”

An older woman in glasses looks at the camera

Her family managed to reach the Chop railway station in western Ukraine. Now they’re waiting to cross into Hungary.

Nadiya’s biggest hope is that things will change for the better and the war will end. “Many children are suffering because of the war.”

Refugee points

FCA’s partner, HIA, sets up refugee points wherever there is a high concentration of people.

In Budapest airport, parents can take a rest, while children play in specially constructed play areas.

VIDEO: 10-year-old Maryanna shows us the content of her backpack at Budapest airport.
“I have sweets and a bottle of water, and here’s my cat. In Ukraine, I had a real cat.”
An illustration of an adult and a child running. Explosions happen above them.

3 million refugees

flee to the surrounding countries during the first month of war, 1.5 million of them children.

A young girl peers over a soft toy

Yelizaveta (5) hugs a soft toy. She and her sister Maryanna (10), mother Vironika, and grandmother Svetlana left their hometown of Odessa soon after Russia invaded Ukraine. At Budapest airport, they are thinking of heading to Bulgaria.

“I had a lot of friends in Odessa, but now my best friend is in Germany. But it’s a good idea to go to Bulgaria, because our Black Sea is there. There we’ll be close to Ukraine,” says Maryanna.

Lviv railway station sees thousands of refugees every hour, often boarding any train they can get, whatever the destination.

Eugene, Vitaly and their children were at hospital in Kharkiv when the bombings started. They were in the hospital because 10-month-old Ivor needs a heart operation. Now Ivor is in his father’s arms and cries out frequently.

Forced to leave the hospital in Kharkiv due to the increasingly intense bombings, their journey to Lviv took more than 24 hours. They came by train; children were sleeping at railway stations and on the floor of the train, they did not have anything to eat.

Father Vitaly Alyabev, Mother Eugene Musina, Ivor Musin (10 months) and Vitalina Musina (8 years) sit together at Lviv railway station.

Phase 2 – sheltering

With fighting ongoing in the east with no sign of an end, Ukrainians often opt to shelter in the relative peace of the west. Locals open their homes and schools to their fellow countrymen, many volunteering long hours to welcome people, feed them, and make sure they have a safe, warm place to stay.

FCA SUPPORTS operations in Berehove and Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine, providing temporary shelters for those who want to stay as well as continuing to help people on their onward journeys. Meanwhile, children are still not attending school, although some teachers are trying to provide remote learning opportunities.

The IOM estimates that there are around 8 million displaced people within Ukraine with humanitarian needs.

A women in a headscarf holds a cat
Larysa and her cat Bella escaped from Kharkiv in March, 2022.

Larysa, her husband, daughter and the cat Bella escaped from Kharkiv on March 1, 2022. Before fleeing, they spent four nights in the basement to escape the bombing raids.

“Everyone wanted to travel out of Kharkiv. There were a lot of people at the train station. The train ride was free of charge, but getting on the train was difficult because of the crowds,” Larysa says.

Larysa has cancer. She received treatment in Kharkiv, but the hospital was destroyed in the bombings. She hopes to get treatment for her illness in Hungary. Now Larysa and her family are staying in a refugee shelter in Berehove, western Ukraine.

“We are happy to have a place to sleep where it’s warm. We get food three times a day, we can wash and do our laundry, because there is also a washing machine here.”

Two weeks later FCA visited the same shelter and heard that Larysa was finally getting treatment in a Ukrainian hospital in the west of the country.

A woman folds clothes in an empty school assembly hall.

When Russia attacked Ukraine, English teacher Erika Pavliuk sent her students home and started volunteering at the refugee shelter set up at the school.

She also provides her students with online lessons. Some of them stay at home, as their school is full of refugees, but some have also fled. Erika is visibly moved when talking about her students. 

“They’re teenagers. We have our ups and downs, but we can always find a solution to our difficulties. I love them.” 

A woman folds clothes in an empty school assembly hall.

Erika takes a deep breath and looks around in her own empty classroom, as we ask about her hopes for the future.

“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.”

A woman in a cook's outfit clasps her hands and looks at the camera while standing in the middle of a large kitchen

Ivonna Kobypyavska manages a kitchen at a refugee shelter set up in a school. She’s worked in the same kitchen for 27 years already, but now she’s feeding refugees instead of school children.

Ivonna’s son went to fight in Kyiv, so she wanted to do something useful; hence, she continued to work in the kitchen without pay.

A woman in a cook's outfit clasps her hands and looks at the camera while standing in the middle of a large kitchen

Ivonna volunteers from 6am to 11pm in the shelter in Berehove, western Ukraine, cooking 400 meals a day in a school kitchen designed for 40 kids.

“It’s not a big deal,” she shrugs. “Routine, routine…”

VIDEO: Father Kirill, mother Ljubov, sisters Alica & Masha & niece Daria travelled from Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine on a long journey that eventually took them to Berehove.

A warm welcome

In the outskirts of Lviv, Viktoria (14), Maria (9) and Ivan (3) have just arrived at a shelter with mother Katerina and grandmother Svetlana.

Maria will have her 9th birthday in two days. The family left their hometown of Malyn because of the war. When the war started, the family waited, thinking it might finish soon. But when they started to hear bombs, they packed their bags and left their home.

The family was told that there were buses that could take them to Lviv and Poland. However, they did not want to cross the border to Poland and decided to stay in Lviv instead.

Two girls and a small boy on a bed smile at the camera. An adult woman sits to the side with her hand over her eyes.
Viktoria 14, Maria 9, Ivan 3 with mother Katerina, 30 minutes after arriving at a shelter in Lviv

“We are incredibly happy and thankful to be here. We were welcomed in the shelter,” says Katerina.

They left the rest of the family behind, so they want to get back to their home as soon as possible. Both Katerina’s and Svetlana’s husbands are fighting in the war.

An illustration of a tent

8 million displaced people

within Ukraine with humanitarian needs.

An illustration of a classroom

676 metric tons

of assistance delivered by summer 2022.

An illustration of a hand with a heart floating above it.

100,000 people

reached by our operations.

A makeshift shelter in a gym is viewed from above. A woman stands at the entrance holding a piece of paper.

A sports hall serves as a temporary community shelter for displaced people in Lviv, Ukraine.
Photo: Melany Markham/FCA

Phase 3 – coming back

While fighting continues in the south and east of the country, some places are safe enough to return. Many buildings are destroyed and electricity is unstable. The threat of air raids still looms. FCA’s operations evolve into the next stage – bringing teachers and children back to school and restoring a sense of normality after a long period of upheaval and trauma. With EU funding, we lead a €14 million consortium to restore formal education to 45,299 children.

A man looks slightly off-camera in front of a background of sunny trees.

“I see there’s a gap in understanding how to approach certain categories of people and provide them with qualified psychosocial support.

Now, a large number of citizens from other regions are coming to stay in Chernihiv, while at the same time, the city is doing its best to get back to the normal state of things.”

Oleh Halepa, Psychologist-Volunteer at Chernihiv Joint Volunteer Center.  Photo: Iryna Dasiuk / FCA  

A group of people are seated in an auditorium looking at a screen. The screen has a child leaning on her hands listening to an adult talk.

Oleh participated in FCA supported psychosocial support training to be able to support traumatised children.

“The coach impressed me a lot. He’s a very active, vivid person. The amount, structure and style of presentation of the information that we’ve learned during the training is something worth learning to apply in our future work.”

A taste of normality

In the summer of 2022, FCA organises several summer clubs for children, where they could play together and take part in activities. For kids and parents, it’s a small taste of normality.


Tanya Slautina and her husband Andzey are from Chernihiv where 60 per cent of the city’s 285,000 inhabitants fled to other parts of Ukraine.

A man and a woman stand in a park with their arms around each other.
Tanya Slautina and her husband Andzey Slautin are from Chernihiv.

“War has touched every aspect of our lives. The worst months in Chernihiv we were isolated in our home. Fear, explosions and panic were our daily companions. Fortunately our children did not see anyone dying, but they were quiet and sullen. All we could think about was survival. 

Our home is OK, but others were not so lucky. We organised a collection of clothes and other necessary items to help other families. Before the attack I worked as a bank clerk, but I left my job to be able to help my children and our community. The stress and fear brought us closer together. 

We all need help with our children, and the summer clubs are a huge relief for us parents, too. Our children Anastasiya, 6, Valeziya, 10, and Maksim, 12, have been going to FCA’s summer clubs for six weeks.”

A teenaged girl laughs as she leans against a brightly coloured wall. Pink flowers are in the foreground

“The best thing about summer clubs was seeing my classmates and friends. Nothing has been completely normal for a long time. First we had to study at home a lot because of the coronavirus pandemic, and then the war began.”

A teenaged girl laughs as she leans against a brightly coloured wall. Pink flowers are in the foreground

“During the attacks, we just wanted to go somewhere and hide. I’ve noticed that I feel much better now that we do things together. Working together and talking with others about how we feel and what we think has been extremely helpful.”

Sophia (14), FCA summer club participant.

Teachers play an important role

FCA’s education response for Ukraine emphasises teacher training and support. Without quality teachers, there is no quality education.

In a context like Ukraine, where war is ongoing, teachers need special training and mentoring to be able to assist their students, but also to cope with their own needs.

VIDEO: On World Humanitarian Day, teacher Ruslana reminded us how important teachers are in humanitarian assistance.

Zhanna took part in FCA’s summer clubs in Ukraine

“Many have lost trust in the world”

Zhanna Kudina is a psychologist and teacher in Chernihiv. 
 
“The war has caused a great deal of stress in children and young people. Some have had to endure exhausting journeys to escape, others have lost loved ones or seen things children should never have to see. The most typical symptoms include lack of appetite, sleep disorders and difficulty concentrating. 

In summer clubs, we have used various therapeutic tools, such as arts and crafts. At first, drawings were very dark-coloured, with soldiers, guns and missiles. Over the weeks, more colour, sunshine and flowers began to appear. Many have lost trust in the world, and with the clubs we try to provide them with a place where they can feel safe.   

As a psychologist, I know that support should be offered urgently after a traumatic event. The longer children and young people have to wait, the more difficult it becomes to deal with the mental scars. But I am hopeful, because I am here now, doing something for them, and because we have received a huge amount of support from Finn Church Aid. We are deeply grateful for that.” 

An illustration of an adult and a child. The child has a speech bubble above its head.

Psychosocial support to 4,590 children

FCA leads a project to provide children with psychosocial support services.

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Training for 905 teachers

to provide specialist support to children suffering from trauma.

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5,872 students

participated and benefitted from FCA’s summer club activities.

Phase 4 – preparing for the winter

The war enters a new phase, where attacks on critical infrastructure are common. The lack of heating makes learning in schools already difficult, and that’s coupled with the almost daily air raid alerts.

THE FREQUENT power cuts also make it hard for students to learn remotely, either at home or in different cities. FCA and partners respond by providing winterisation kits to families and starting work to make mandatory bomb shelters in schools suitable to continue learning in, even during an air raid alert.

VIDEO: Winter sets in and the need for proper reconstruction is urgent.
FCA teams prepare to replace windows and make bomb shelters suitable for learning.

We went back to see Ruslana, a teacher in Chernihiv, Ukraine who received psychosocial training from us during the summer.

A woman smiles at the camera
Ruslana uses the skills she learned in FCA training sessions every day

“Everyday is a challenge. The war has had an influence on every aspect of our lives, our daily routines. Now we are planning how we could organize the teaching in shelters as we spend quite a lot of time there depending on the week.”

Children seem to be quite flexible when it comes to psychosocial wellbeing. However, you never know what triggers them. It might be an air raid, the sound of a siren. Some of them start crying. Some of them just stay still. Of course, some of the students stay positive, but some of them are really pessimistic and in despair.

The new methods and psychosocial support skills we learnt have supported us during this autumn. Many of our teachers are using those methods on a regular basis here at school.” 

“This has been a life lesson”

We also revisit Zhanna, who explains that, after so many months of war, she and her colleagues are doing their best to overcome the anxiety syndrome and stress many children are currently experiencing.

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Zhanna has used new skills provided by FCA training to help her students

According to Zhanna, approximately 30 % of students show signs of stress syndrome. They show symptoms like anxiety, loss of appetite, bad sleeping, and screaming while having nightmares.

She explains that during the Russian military presence in the region, three students of her school lost their lives. Some students experienced violence and oppression.

One of the school shelters has been organized as a psychosocial hub for children. It is a safe place where children participate for example in art therapy and learn relaxing breathing techniques.

When asked about her thoughts on the future, Kudina says that she hopes for the best and peace. “This all has been a kind of a lesson to us by life. It has developed our survival skills, the skills with which we can live this over. We should somehow try to program ourselves for the best. Positive thinking will bring a positive future.”

A dark street is only lit up by the light from car headlamps. People cross the street lit up by the headlamps.

Power outages or “blackouts” are frequent in Chernihiv and across Ukraine. Sometimes cities only have a few hours of electricity a day.

A dark street with a person sillohuetted is only lit up by the light from car headlamps.

FCA supports the installation of generators in schools to cope with the loss of electricity.

Children spend Christmas without their fathers

Many families will spend this year with fathers, brothers and uncles at the frontline or never coming back from the war. FCA supports 71 children in Chernihiv with Christmas gifts and activities.   

Oleh (11) and Polina (13) both lost their fathers in the war. Both students are learning online, despite power cuts.

Polina (13) and Oleh (11) received Christmas gifts, supported by FCA.

Says Polina, “I love drawing and have been doing arts for eight years. I like online learning, because it’s safer and the teacher can give you specific attention.”

“My family is the best family in the world. We have some Christmas traditions, such as decorating the Christmas tree on the 24th of December. This year it will just be me, my mother, grandmother and my brother.”

Schools destroyed

Schools, as well as hospitals and critical infrastructure have all suffered intense damage. For Ukraine’s young people, it’s been a disorientating and distressing year.

Since September 2022, the 1,200 students of Lyceum Number 25 in Zhytomyr have been studying in temporary learning spaces.

Kateryna Tkachenko, 9th grader at Lyceum Number 25 in Zhytomyr, Ukraine looks at the camera standing in front of the destroyed school.

Kateryna Tkachenko is a 9th grader at Lyceum Number 25 in Zhytomyr, Ukraine. The school was destroyed by a missile strike on March 4, 2022.

“In spring 2022, we had to take a two-month study break, and then we continued with online lessons. I felt so lucky when I was able to start my 9th grade offline. I prefer offline learning because of better communication.”

Rubble strewn on the ground. In the foreground is an open book with charred pages.

“The war has caused a lot of problems in Ukraine. Thanks to my parents, friends and teacher, I have coped with all challenges. I miss everything in my destroyed school: the building, classrooms and atmosphere. It was very important to me.

I want to finish school with excellent grades and go to university. I want to travel the world and have a good life.”

An illustration of a school.

3,098 education institutions

have suffered bombing, FCA will support the rehabilitation of 147 schools.

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71 children

in Chernihiv supported by FCA in 2022 with Christmas gifts and activities.

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31,100 learner kits

will be distributed to children in need in the project locations.

VIDEO: On the International Day of Education 2023, we meet a teacher and a student
at their destroyed school in Zhytomyr, Ukraine.

Phase 5 – looking to the future

As the country reaches one year at war, Ukraine’s children must return to school. FCA leads a multi-million euro set of programmes to make sure teachers and students have everything they need to learn safely, in comfort and flexibly.

A family gather around a table full of food. A girl pours a drink.

The New Year’s celebrations at this family’s house are a moment of joy. Mother Oksana was injured in a rocket attack at the start of the war and daughter, Maria, is still shaken by witnessing her mother’s plight.

A man and a teenaged boy sit on a sofa with a chessboard between them. A girl in the foreground walks out of the shot.

15 year old Kyryl plays chess with his father, Mykola, who is home from the war during New Year.

Two girls in Ukrainian national dress stand in a doorway singing.

In Ukraine, the new year is celebrated by children going door to door and singing for candy.

The New Year brings families back together

In Ukraine, the New Year is celebrated between the 13th and 14th of January. Many families celebrate, with some male family members being able to return for a few days to join their families.

The event provides a moment of reflection on the year’s events with hope for the future.

VIDEO: The Old New Year is celebrated in Ukraine on the night of 13 to 14 January.
FCA staff spent the New Year with a Ukrainian family.

Children return to schools

After months of online learning, often interrupted by power outages, children have the chance to come back to the classroom.

With EU-funded FCA support, schools are rehabilitated with improved facilities, like reinforced windows and specially equipped bomb shelters, where kids can continue learning even during air raid alerts.

FCA also works to develop school curriculums, in order to make learning as flexible as possible, so that children can have access to education wherever they are.

A destroyed school is depicted on the other side of a reflective pool of water. In front of a school a person in a green t shirt holds a red umbrella.

School number 21 was completely demolished during the fighting in Chernihiv, Ukraine in spring 2022.

FCA works with rehabilitating schools and arranging temporary learning spaces.

A girl sits on a school stage next to bags full of books that bear the logos of FCA and the EU

”I do not like to learn from home. The best thing at school is to spend time with my friends”, says Daryna Khomenko.  

Daryna is now excited to return to the classroom after the rehabilitation of her school has been finalised in early 2023. She’s also received learning materials through the project funded by EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO). 

VIDEO: Schools need new windows and doors to keep safe and warm.
Funded by the EU, FCA gives children kits with school materials so they can keep learning remotely.

Ukrainians join FCA Staff

There are now over 20 professionals working in FCA’s Ukraine country office and most of them are locals like Marianna Zhurbenko.

Marianna remembers how on February 24, 2022 she stared in disbelief at the sky from the window of her own home in Gostomel, west of Kyiv.

Helicopters buzzed in the sky and the phone rang non-stop. Friends called in distress and told Marianna and her family to flee. The war had started suddenly, and the front line was only 500 meters from Marianna’s home.

“It felt like I was watching a movie from my window,” Marianna recalls.

In the evening, the uproar of artillery fire began, and that’s when Marianna and her husband decided to leave. They packed the family’s 9-year-old son, a six-month-old baby and a dog into the car and set off first for Kiev and then for western Ukraine. Marianna and the boys lived there for the next months.

Marianna stayed awake a lot and listened to her elder son’s crying at night. Fortunately, the youngest didn’t understand anything about the situation.

“Random families took us in to live with them. We tried to offer them payment for the water and electricity we used, but they refused to accept it,” says Marianna and describes how the war has united Ukrainians. She would also open the door to foreign families if such a situation came up again.

“The war has changed my own values. I realized that material don’t matter. Life, health, family relationships and love became important values ​​for me.”

In May, it became clear that although her former workplace had not been destroyed in the war, all the workers had fled elsewhere and were not going to return.

In June 2022, Marianna started as a logistics coordinator at Finn Church Aid. She is responsible for procurement and that supplies going to FCA-supported schools find their destination.

“I was an IDP, and I know how people feel. I love being able to help children. I like myself doing this job,” says Marianna.

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3 oblasts

Kyiv, Chernihiv and Zhytomyr.

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21 staff

Programs, finance,
operations and support.

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2 offices

Head office in Kyiv, field office in Chernihiv.

Learning continues in bomb shelters

Nowadays, a functioning Ukrainian school must have a functioning bomb shelter, because there can sometimes be several air raid alerts per day.

FCA equips school bomb shelters so that everyday life can continue in them as normally as possible even during an air raid alert.

VIDEO: 15-year-old Nastya Tabenska shows us around her bomb shelter at her school in Chernihiv, Ukraine.

FCA will stay in Ukraine, providing quality education for all through curriculum development, training and reconstruction.

A person in a hooded winter jacket unloads bags of items from a packed van. The jacket bears the logo of FCA.

“There are a lot of challenges in Ukraine, but FCA with its Ukrainian partners sees that education is a real investment in the future. It’s not always something that you can see immediately. You know, if somebody is hungry and you give them food, you can see immediately that the need is satisfied, but education is more of a long-term investment.”

A woman standing in front of a destroyed building smiles at the camera.

“We have students who need some hope for the future. And without the ability to learn and to create opportunities for themselves in terms of future learning, future employment, all those other basic needs are not enough.”

FCA Ukraine Country Director,
Patricia Maruschak

The future of children and youth cannot be put on hold

Although fighting continues, children can’t wait to go back to school. 
 
FCA leads a €14 million EU funded consortium with Save The Children, People in Need and War Child Holland to repair and upgrade schools, provide children with learning kits and train teachers in a new more flexible curriculum. 
 

  • Schools will be equipped with learning spaces that also act as bomb shelters, special reinforced windows and flexible learning spaces.  
  • Children will be supported with psychosocial services and teachers will be trained and mentored to provide these.   
  • FCA also works with local partners savED, GoGlobal and DOCCU to assess damage and work with local authorities.  

Find out more about our work on the Ukraine country page.