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Since the start of Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine, the United States has sheltered more than 80,000 refugees under the United for Ukraine (U4U) program. Such data was made public by the US Immigration Service. A significant part of the displaced are children who had to get used to life in an unfamiliar country and new circumstances. Some of them, despite the time difference, continue to study hard in Ukrainian schools remotely. Others get used to American schools, kindergartens and universities.
Maryna Grigorieva, a native of Kyiv, and her three children often recall the first days of the war, which they spent in the corridor of a Kyiv high-rise building. Children remember how they ate bagels in the corridor, and hid under blankets from the loud noises from the airport in Gostomel, where battles were fought at the beginning of the war. In a few days, the family moved to the underground parking lot. “We slept in clothes and hats, it was very cold in the parking lot. I made a bed for Daria from chairs, put her there, covered her with a blanket, Alexei slept sitting on a chair. I just walked around the parking lot for two nights so as not to fall asleep and protect the children,” Marina recalls.
The family did not want to leave Ukraine until the end. They were on their way when the youngest son began to feel sick from fear. In memory of the sad journey, the notes that Marina left in the children’s jackets just in case are still reminiscent: “So that my children would not be lost and they would know whose children they were, or something would happen to all of them, so that we could be identified, I wrote the children’s names , surnames, patronymics, phone number of relatives”.
The family left Kyiv for Poland, and from there to Germany, where they lived for 5 months. The German family accepted them as friends, and the dogs that lived in the German family became a consolation for the children.
Later, the family went to the USA. It was only planned for a few months, so the children did not go to an American school. However, we had to delay, and the eldest son – eleventh-grader Ruslan – continues to study at the Ukrainian lyceum online. Due to the time difference, his lessons fall at night. “I wake up at 12 or 1 a.m., wash my face and sit down for lessons. In between I can listen to music or prepare for the next lesson. This is how I study until morning,” says Ruslan.
Despite the unusual schedule of the day, Ruslan says that he remembers the lessons, especially the history of Ukraine. He wants to enter a Ukrainian university, but before that he dreams of graduating at home.
His younger brother, seven-year-old Oleksiy, also went to the United States to a Ukrainian school, remotely in the first grade.The first teacher Oleksia sends assignments and checks them, and mom explains everything, so he doesn’t need to wake up at night. Oleksiy saw his classmates only in photos and videos. Oleksiy’s favorite subject corresponds to the situation in Ukraine. “I like the educational class the most. They tell me that you can’t take suspicious objects, and if you hear an alarm, you have to hide in a bomb shelter,” says Oleksiy.
Oleksiy also plays online chess with a teacher from Ukraine. Online, the boy even learns to play the piano. He puts his smartphone on the tripod, and his teacher from Ukraine watches from the screen whether he presses the keys correctly.
Marina says that, despite the outward calmness, it was the seven-year-old Oleksiy of all the children who found moving the most difficult. He keeps asking when they will come home. Americans support the family morally. “When I told where we’re from, from which country, from which city, they put their hands on their hearts and said: “We stand for Ukraine!” … We don’t know the language, but we’re trying to learn. And when you try to talk to Americans, they treat it very patiently and help,” says Marina.
He remembers the first day of the war perfectly ninth grader Dmytro Frankelwho arrived in the USA from Kharkiv: “On the 24th, I first went to Viber and saw that classes were canceled at school, I thought, this is cool! And then I saw on the Instagram page of Zelensky or Terekhov that martial law was declared, I understood everything, went to my mother, she was already packing.”
In the spring of the eighth grade, Dmytro went to two schools: an online Ukrainian one, and a stationary American one. However, it was difficult to continue mastering two programs, so I gave up online education in the fall.
“Ukrainian and American schools different in almost everything. Here I have shorter breaks – 5 minutes instead of 15, but there is a long one for lunch and I really like it. Lessons in the US are much easier, less lessons. If in Ukraine I had biology, physics, chemistry, algebra and geometry, here I only have mathematics and chemistry, next year there will be biology. Dmytro says that he got used to the American class easily, because he knew English well, and his classmates and teachers supported him. Although he misses Kharkiv, he is looking for advantages where he is now. “I miss my friends, our apartment, my school, I can’t say whether it’s worse or better, but it just happened, everything has changed,” says Dmytro.
Knowledge of the language was one of the main factors for the adaptation of children in the team, she said Natalia Ioffe, educational volunteer from the state of New Jersey, which helped emigrants from Ukraine settle down. However, America is well adapted to the needs of emigrants, and Ukrainians felt it. “When families started arriving, especially when the parents didn’t speak English, I helped them go to interviews. Schools in the US have special hours where they talk to migrants or refugees, they provide interpreters. They sit down with the child, do test and decide what level of language support the child needs, they also help translate documents. If there are not all the necessary vaccines, they are done for free,” said Ioffe.
In addition to free language support in schools, the USA offers psychological support to Ukrainian children who feel anxious, and often also depressed, from separation from family and friends, she said psychologist Nina Malinovska: “I work as a volunteer with teenagers in Canada and the USA. There are many support programs here specifically for migrant children, in particular for Ukrainians. Teenagers are the most vulnerable category, because slightly smaller children adapt well, play, their program is much easier than Ukrainian ones schools.”
Despite the various circumstances, according to the psychologist, the child’s condition primarily depends on the adult who is next to her: “If adults are confused and do not know whether to stay or return, if all anxiety and maladjustment are transmitted to the child, then the child perceives it as a virus, psyche is shaking. My advice is to see this situation as something that will make us even more diverse, even more adaptable to the world, and you can bring that to your country.”