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Ukrainian school for refugee children launches in Brussels

A school created specially for Ukranian children has been launched in Brussels to help kids from refugee families continue their learning interupted by the Russian invasion.

The war in Ukraine has forced thousands of children to study away from their homeland and not in their native Ukrainian language.

But the newly opened multilingual and free Vesna school, set up by Maria Smirnova, a woman living in the Belgian capital with Russian and Ukrainian roots, aims to help children transition and better integrate into Belgian society.

“We have mixed-age groups. So, children can be together from three to six, six to nine, nine to twelve and twelve to sixteen years-old,” Smirnova told Euronews. 

“So, we have to adapt the learning according to this set up and also according to the state of the children. For some of them, they may need to go very slowly because they have been really traumatised.”

Helena Shvab, mother of Dima, 14, and Maxim, 6, says taking her children to the Vesna school classroom in Brussels has given her a new sense of hope.

“I think [this] possibility is great because they really can’t find friends of the same age,” Shvab explained. “Dima didn’t want to leave home and Max doesn’t want to play with kids that are speaking just French. He feels like scared. He said: I don’t understand anything.”

Times will also be challenging for Sallyann McAlpnine, a volunteer English teacher at the school. She told Euronews that it will also be important to deal with the emotional distress of her students.

“One student came in – clearly head down – and the mother had said to me that he was very frightened because he could hear aeroplanes and he was being reminded of what was happening in his hometown,” McAlpine said. 

“What happened then was…we sat on the ground, and I think he started to open up. We were just having a bit of a chat. But the mother, she looked around and she said: yes, this could be a safe place. That was a bit shocking.”

Children at the Vesna school will be learning in Ukranian, but will also be given the chance to interact in other local languages.

Two other similar schools are also being established in Paris.

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