Ihor is Studying at a Czech Secondary School. Thousands of Ukrainian Students Aren’t so LuckyPublished: Jul 27, 2022 Reading time: 6 minutes
Seventeen-year-old Ihor lost his father due to COVID and the war has now taken away his home. With his personal documents in his pocket, he fled Ukraine with his mother and a friend during one of the bombings. Now, they have decided to start a new life in the Czech Republic, after all, they have nowhere to return to.
These days, Ihor intensively studies Czech and attends a local secondary school. He is one of the few Ukrainian high school students who has successfully managed to do so. Due to the high enrollment rate this year, sometimes there are no free places at local secondary schools even for Czech students. Additionally, since attendance at secondary school is not compulsory, school directors are not especially motivated to create extra places for incoming Ukrainian youth. The urgency of solving this problem is highlighted by the Consortium of Migrants Assisting Organizations in the Czech Republic, of which People in Need (PIN) is a member.
They were in their final year of school, preparing for their final exams and planning their university studies, when Ihor and his classmate Mykyta arranged an overnight study session at Ihor’s place. But instead of Ihor’s mom buying fresh rolls for the boys for breakfast, a bomb landed behind their house early the next morning. The three of them wasted no time in fleeing the country by bus. Since so many people were fleeing and country at that time, they had to leave what few possessions they had lying at the bus stop. They only had their personal documents. What’s more, Mykyta was travelling alone, as his mother had decided to stay in Ukraine to care for his elderly grandmother.
This is not the first time Ihor had to flee because of fighting
In Pilsen, an employee from People in Need met up with the trio and arranged accommodation for them in a nearby village. The joy that they showed about being in a room that was both heated and clean with a single bed was touching.
This is not the first time Ihor has had to flee because of fighting. In the past several years, his family has been driven out by rioting in Donbas and even in when they lived in Kramatorsk, they were never completely at peace. In the end, he and his mother were left alone, as his father died of COVID shortly before the Russians invasion.
“From the very beginning, the boys have been interested in how they could get involved here and how they could start learning Czech. The day after they arrived, Ihor's mother went to weed the flower beds in front of the municipal office. She also felt a need to be helpful. The boys wanted to go to school quickly and she wanted to go to work,” says Petra Čížkovská, an employee at People in Need, adding that she helped the group arrange temporary accommodation, social benefits and bank accounts. Together with the locals, she took care of their food, basic furniture and clothes because they still really had nothing. When Ihor's mother went into the fields to collect stones, she only had sneakers on her feet, even though it was snowing.
The boys work hard and study Czech practically all the time
Next up was school. “I put the boys in my car and drove them to the nearest secondary school. This was in the very beginning. It was not at all clear how the schools would deal with the influx of young refugees and what the condition admissions would be in. But the headmistress of the secondary school accommodated us and accepted the boys into the first year. We then arranged a free Czech language course for them, got them a bike so that they could commute to a neighboring village and bought them a computer. The boys are really working hard, they study Czech practically all the time. They are both very talented, especially in mathematics, and very clever,” says Petra Čížkovská. In the autumn, they plan to take placement exams in order to transfer to the appropriate academic year at school. They then hope to continue on to university.
The secondary school delayed making them pay for their lunches. The first month was paid by People in Need, but now they pay for it themselves. “The boys do various part-time jobs, they help people in the village,” Čížkovská illustrating their constant effort not to be a burden PIN was able to contribute to their school supplies and travel expenses for the bus from the SOS Ukraine fund-raising campaign. “The boys were happy to go to school, but the next morning, the bus driver threw them out in the rain saying that at his transportation company, Ukrainians don’t get to go for free. A few days later, they had money ready for a ticket, but in the meantime, it had become more expensive, so they had to walk the twelve kilometers to school,” she gives an example of the inconveniences that refugees sometimes encounter despite the persistent wave of solidarity.
But not everyone is so lucky. There is also the story of a group of young Ukrainians in a different part of the country who came here at the beginning of March and who have also had various problems associated with fleeing the war-ravaged country and coming to a place where they don’t know anybody. But within a short period of time, they have already had to move several times. Most recently, they needed to move when their mothers refused to accept the unfair conditions of one of the “solidarity” accommodation providers.
This group consists of two adults and four children aged five, thirteen and seventeen. The mothers have been able to find work, the youngest child goes to kindergarten, the older one to elementary school, but the oldest boys feel completely out of place.
"I've contacted about thirty secondary schools, but I've only received responses from two. The boys are going to one of them tomorrow for an interview. It specializes in graphic design and computer science, which both the boys would be very interested in. But other than that, it's been miserable. The directors either didn't get back to me at all, or they tell me they are full, or simply don’t want to deal with it at all because it's complicated. Everywhere they want a good command of Czech. Even if they do offer them a place now, they won't make a final decision until the end of August, when they will be tested on the language. There is no certainty of acceptance," says a Czech language teacher who teaches the newly arrived Ukrainians as a volunteer and who wished to remain anonymous.
Thousands of Ukrainian teenagers in the Czech Republic do not attend secondary schools, nor have they applied
Many young Ukrainians are frustrated with the current situation. There is fear and uncertainty about what will happen. Their mothers deal with other matters and they do not have much capacity to search for a high school, especially one in a foreign environment. “They are a very vulnerable group, not only because of their age and traumatic experiences, but also because a large part of them do not receive the support from schools that younger schoolchildren have. Thousands of Ukrainian teenagers in the Czech Republic do not attend or even apply to secondary schools. Given the tight capacity of schools, it is already clear that many of them will not get into secondary education at all," explains Tomáš Habart, Head of Varianty Educational Services, underscoring the desperation of the situation.
According to May data from the Ministry of Education, this may affect about 25,000 Ukrainian high school students. Some of them are currently studying remotely at secondary schools in Ukraine. “Schools can apply for subsidies for language classes, including holiday classes, but it is clear that thousands of Ukrainian teenagers will not be able to get into secondary schools at all. Outside of school, however, language support options for them are also limited. At the same time, we know little about the plans and motivations of young Ukrainians,” admits Tomáš Habart.