In the face of adversity and hardship, people often have an extraordinary ability to adapt and persevere. I’ve experienced this phenomenon firsthand while working with Ukrainian children who have been displaced from their homes and families due to the ongoing Russian invasion of their country.
The invasion has not only impacted the lives of Ukrainian natives, but also indirectly has put pressure on neighboring nations by forcing them to confront surging refugee populations, and spiking fossil fuel and other commodity prices. As thoroughly covered in the media daily, the war doesn’t seem close to reaching a conclusion, and the risks to the European Union and its economy are palpable.
Many of those most directly affected by the horrors of this war are the families which have been torn apart and forced into exile. Yet, it stunned me to be greeted by children with exuberant smiles each day as I walked into my classroom at the Refugee Adaptation Center where I volunteered in Prague this summer. Though my Ukrainian/Russian language skills were scant, I found we could bond over simple card games, and recognize and share the innocent fun of the games through our laughs and giggles.
The contrast between the children’s positive demeanor and the reality of their war-torn country often perplexed me. I found it fascinating how many of the young children were seemingly able to move past the hardships they had faced in recent months as they left their known lives and families behind, and managed to persevere with grace and fortitude while being stripped of elements of their childhood.
Through the good work of OPU’s Adaptation Center, specialized psychologists visited every few days to check in with the children and ensure that their mental health needs were being cared for and looked after. The dedicated work of these caretakers, Czech language teachers, and administrative workers at the Center has promoted a more seamless transition for so many children displaced by the war. Prague is normally a city of 1.3 million people. However, since 24 February over 300,000 Ukrainians have joined the city’s ranks. The generosity and kindness of these people make the world a slightly better, more accepting and more caring place for the war’s youngest victims. While the Adaptation Centers in the Czech Republic were originally conceived as a temporary solution to help children adjust to life in the Czech Republic, the overwhelming demand from incoming children and their families, and shortage of spaces in Prague schools, has meant that the programs will continue throughout the course of the upcoming school year.
-Natalia Sanders ’24