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UKRAINE: Ukrainian teacher, psychologist run programs for children fleeing war

Salesian Youth Center in Czech Republic provides programs for young Ukrainian refugees

(MissionNewswire) The Salesian Youth Center, located in České Budějovice, Czech Republic, has been providing services for Ukrainian children who fled when the war erupted. These children and their families are refugees seeking shelter and safety away from their home country. The center employs two Ukrainian women to run programs for Ukrainian children. Masha Shumkova is a teacher and Olena Halushka is a psychologist. Both of them used to work at a children’s center in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

Halushka said, “I came to the Czech Republic in the second week of March. Our friend told us about the Salesian Youth Center. We were surprised when we came here because, in our city in Ukraine, we don’t have anything like this. Czech children must be so happy because they have this program, and they may come here for free, get attention, and stay at a comfortable, safe place. I decided to be a volunteer in this Salesian Youth Center because I like kids. Really, for me it’s so easy to be with kids. They give me energy.”

The Ukrainian children are making connections with the children already in the program. It has been a fairly smooth transition even for Halushka and Shumkova. They seek out activities the children enjoy and bond with them over sports and other activities. It’s not all games though. Many of the activities are educational to ensure children are still learning.

“We divided Ukrainian children into four groups according to their age — from 4 to 16 years — and we make different programs for each group,” explained Shumkova. “We focus on teaching mathematics, logic, literature, or we just have a little fun. The groups are already full. Besides that, we have a group for Czech kids on Monday. We are still learning the Czech language and we also practice English with Czech children.”

The children are happy to engage in the programs. Some are struggling because many only speak Ukrainian. One boy explained that he was the only person in his new school that spoke his language. Even the other two Ukrainian refugees only spoke Russian. He was excited when he found out that Halushka and Shumkova spoke Ukrainian like him.

There are also children who are having a hard time adjusting after the trauma they faced. Halushka said, “I’ve seen a few traumatized children. We will paint an animal. You can create an animal that you have never seen in life, and think of the superpowers it has. Some children painted dragons with superpower for killing and loads of blood around them. They don’t talk about their trauma, but you can see it in their paintings. Also, I remember two kids that came here and were super shy. They came from Donetsk and experienced a lot of bad situations. They were afraid of communicating with other children.”

They are also seeing families who are in need of material supplies like food, diapers for babies and blankets. Others are still looking for a place to live and a new job. Halushka added, “People need to hear that you’re sorry this is happening to them and words of encouragement even if you can’t offer donations or a place to live. They need the support right now in however it can be provided.”

Salesian missionaries around the globe are working to provide financial and material donations to help people still in Ukraine and refugees in bordering countries. Even Salesians in the poorest countries have stepped up in some way to support the efforts.



Photo courtesy of Salesian emergency response coordinator

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