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New life, new school: France welcomes Ukraine's refugee children

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By Monica Pinna
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Witness
Witness   -   Copyright  euronews

There were 7.5 million children in Ukraine before Russia launched its invasion of the country on February 24th. Since then, around two million have fled to other EU countries. 

As part of their attempt to rebuild their lives in a foreign country many of these Ukrainian refugee children have started going back to school. I went to France to see how these Ukrainian children are adjusting to their new lives abroad.

A lot of people were raped or killed just for fun. If you don't want to see that, or be a part of it, you have to leave.

You wouldn’t expect a teenager quietly sitting at his school desk to say the words just above. But that's exactly what 17-year-old Serhii Horbonos told me when we met.  He arrived in France without his parents. He came as part of a group of 26 Ukrainians, all from Dnipro in Eastern Ukraine. Even though the students were all from the same city they had never met before - since then they have become like a family. 

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Serhii, 17, is one of 26 young Ukrainian refugees from Dnipro now studying in the French school system.Euronews
We all understand that we are all in the same situation. If someone loses their parents, it would be the worst thing for everyone, and everyone would help.
Serhii Horbonos
Ukrainian refugee

I met Serhii at the “Diois School Academy” in the laid-back southern French town of Die. The idyllic mountain region couldn’t be more different from war-torn Ukraine. The school management has created an intensive French course for them. The aim is to help them gradually integrate so they can take part in other courses.

Their teacher tells me that talk of war is kept out of the class. Among the giggles over French pronunciation, sometimes the mood gets heavier. But attempts to read the French sound of 'U' trigger laughter again.

The goal is not only to teach them French, says the academy's director Jean-Yves Ebel, but also to give them their social life back, to let them live out their adolescent lives.

“One of the missions of education is to give students a place to develop their personality and their well-being."

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Andrii, 9, from Kyiv, is the only non-French speaker in his class in Lyon.Euronews

The assimilation of Ukrainian students into French school classes I saw was done with a lot of care and respect. I was moved to see little Andrii, 9, from Kyiv, in his new class in Lyon. He was the only non-French speaker among around 30 pupils. His teacher used a translation app on her mobile phone to communicate with him. His classmates used gestures and goodwill. Andrii was one of the best pupils in his Ukrainian class. Despite this dramatic change in environment, he is now understanding more and more.

I left all the schools I visited with a smile and a thought. Surely all refugees from all ethnicities and nationalities are worth the same unprecedented support given to Ukrainians.