When the Ukraine war began in Feb., Anastasiia Konovalova, a teacher in Odesa, knew she had to get to 2-year-old son, Kyril, to safety.
"There was nothing more important than taking my child away," she said from Bucharest, Romania, where she and Kyril are living now. "I wasn't a professor at [that] moment, I was running away from war. I was a mother. I wasn't even a wife, because I left my husband behind. Everything I was thinking about is that I had to take my child away."
Once she and Kyril were safely in Bucharest, Konovalova looked around and knew she needed to act fast. More children displaced by the war were arriving every day. "We saw a lot of children crossing the border and sleeping in churches or in gyms or refugee centers," she recalled. "Their mothers are so stressed. Basically the children were abandoned."
Torn from their daily lives and the comforts of home, the children needed above all else a safe place to learn and play, with other kids their own age. "We need to give these children a normal life," said Konovalova. "And normal for a child is school."
She and other teachers from Ukraine went to a crowded volunteer center at Bucharest's Gara de Nord train station. "At some point, we just started yelling, pretty aggressively, that we were teachers and can teach, and just allow us to start teaching somewhere, " she said. "For free, of course. Just to give us this opportunity to help the children."
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Mihai Viteazul High School offered space in their building for the new Ukrainian School. On the first day, 227 children arrived. "You can imagine me and the Head Teacher of the school running around counting chairs, trying to figure out where all the children will go," said Konovalova. "This is such a huge responsibility for a school, to allow so many children, a lot of them with no documents at all."
UNICEF provided backpacks filled with notebooks and art materials, sports equipment and School in a Box kits containing classroom supplies. The children learn Ukrainian, Mathematics, Science and English. Their emotional state is at the core of every lesson.
"We have new children coming every day," said Konovalova. "Some of them went through the horrible experience of living in the basement, seeing people dying, not having food and water for several days. I don't know how much time they will need to actually heal, to realize what happened."
UNICEF is on the ground in Ukraine and neighboring countries, ensuring that children uprooted by the war have the supplies and psychosocial support they need to recover from the trauma they've experienced and get back to just being kids. Please donate.
Top photo: Ukrainian refugee children greet each other in the schoolyard of Mihai Viteazul High School in Bucharest, Romania. UNICEF is providing backpacks filled with school supplies, sports equipment and School in a Box kits to help children displaced by war resume their education. © UNICEF/UN0645401/Moldovan. Video edited by Tong Su for UNICEF USA