What is the problem?
Most who have escaped the war abroad dream of returning home, but reality dictates other conditions for forced emigrants. Full integration is almost the only possibility to live, raise children, work, and develop in a new place. There is another side to this process — mastering the language and culture of another country, and Ukrainians risk losing knowledge and memory of their own.
What is the solution?
I'm Ukrainian is a digital community for Ukrainians abroad
At the beginning of 2023, the non-governmental organization Society of Researchers of Ukraine launched the I'm Ukrainian application — a mobile app that unites Ukrainians who went abroad due to the war. The project's main goal is to ensure that Ukrainians forced to leave the country at the beginning of the invasion do not forget their origins.
"The unity of Ukrainians in Ukraine and abroad is one of the pillars on which the Ukrainian struggle against the enemy rests," commented the Society of Ukrainian Researchers Facebook page on the platform's launch.
With the app's help, Ukrainians can find the necessary services, options for employment, and educational courses, look for like-minded people and plan joint excursions or visits to volunteer hubs.
Another feature of the project is the ability to add announcements about own events and business abroad. To make this function available only to Ukrainians, the developers have integrated login through the Ukrainian Diia self-governance app.
Currently, the application works in 30 countries. At the same time, the developers advise monitoring the updates of the I'm Ukrainian mobile app because the geography of the application is constantly expanding.
Ukrainian Bookshelves Worldwide — read in Ukrainian
Chytomo media and LitCentr launched a map of Ukrainian Bookshelves Worldwide spaces with Ukrainian books abroad. Currently, the map features spaces from 22 countries, including Austria, Spain, Canada, South Korea, etc. There are 388 spaces outside of Ukraine where one can find Ukrainian books.
Chytomo notes that according to the survey, about 85% of such Ukrainian bookshelves were created after February 24, 2022, and 70% of them exist in libraries. One can learn more about each on the special project page.
Currently, on the app's website, one can familiarize with the map of the shelves, the study about their activities, and the algorithm for creating a Ukrainian bookshelf and book selections with which you can fill the shelves. The results are available in Ukrainian and English.
"Previously, libraries purchased only Russian books, and readers have long been used to finding Ukrainian books even in the literature in foreign languages department," stressed Oksana Khmelivska, editor-in-chief of the Chytomo website. "But we believe that this situation has changed significantly thanks to volunteers, public associations, and, of course, extremely high-quality products of Ukrainian publishing houses. A Ukrainian book should be visible abroad."
Ukrainian studios abroad have always been important for spreading information about Ukraine internationally. With the beginning of a full-scale war, they became centers of native culture for Ukrainians forced to find themselves abroad.
The Ukrainian Institute has created an interactive map of worldwide Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar studies. Today on the map, 160 centers of Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar studios are in 30 countries. The map describes the organizational form of studios — higher education institutions or independent research centers, their function, and what priorities and topics they are guided in their work.
In addition to scientific activities, most of these studios also conduct various events. For example, the Ukrainian Cultural Center of Nottingham, Great Britain, has been preserving the cultural identity of Ukrainians in Britain for over 60 years. School of Ukrainian Studies, named after Lesya Ukrainka at the center, is one of the oldest Ukrainian schools in the country. The center organizes various cultural and educational events for people of all ages, from preschoolers to older adults.
The Ukrainian Society in Mainz, Germany, specializes in the history and culture of Ukraine. There is also a Saturday school for children studying the Ukrainian language, history, and culture. In parallel, the society organizes various cultural events in the city.
Ukrainian schools abroad
The functioning of Ukrainian schools abroad means support for the Ukrainian language, culture, identity, and connection with Ukraine. As of April 11, the International Ukrainian School (IUS) works with 39 legal entities in 11 countries. Here, students can get Ukrainian educational documents.
In contrast to the International Ukrainian School, supported by the state, Ukrainian Saturday and Sunday schools are mainly initiatives foundations, cultural or non-governmental organizations, and communities of Ukrainians abroad. They do no less than officially recognized institutions to preserve the identity of young Ukrainians.
According to the Ukrainian parents at the Saturday school Mrija in Zurich, everything was created so that children could be in a Ukrainian environment and not forget the language and traditions. Ukrainian teachers teach children the Ukrainian language, literature, history, and folklore. They are trying to adhere to Ukrainian school programs, order all textbooks from Ukraine, and develop a school library so that children can read in Ukrainian. Mrija also created a whole Ukrainian community: a Ukrainian choir performs on holidays, the school holds thematic master classes and teaches Ukrainian traditions through embroidery and knitting, and educational tours are organized.
In Wrocław, the Saturday school conducts classes for three age groups: preschoolers (4-6 years old), junior schoolchildren (1-3 grades), and senior schoolchildren (4+ grades). The program includes lessons on the Ukrainian language, history and culture of Ukraine, ethnography, singing, dancing, and religion (optional). During their studies, young people learn about their ancestors' history, geography, culture, and language.
Due to the non-recognition of Ukrainian schools abroad, there is no officially approved list of such schools. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs created an unofficial list, and there is also a list of schools with which the IUS cooperates.
Stay with Ukraine — online Ukrainian lessons for schoolchildren
As part of the project Stay with Ukraine from the NGO Smart Education, students of grades 5-11 abroad can join online classes with Ukrainian teachers to study the Ukrainian language, literature, and history. In addition to the regular classes, thematic lessons are held, like, classes on the spring calendar rituals of Ukrainians are held in March.
Classes take place in two formats: on weekday evenings and Saturdays. To enroll in the class, one of the parents must register using the link, and then the project coordinator will select a convenient schedule and age group for the child. Almost 90 groups were created during the project, and more than 1,100 children joined the training.
"We hope that thanks to our online lessons, Ukrainian children will not be separated from the Ukrainian education system, and after Ukraine's victory, it will be easier for them to return to studying at home," says project manager Iryna Petriv.
Ukrainian centers abroad, created during the war
In June 2022, the first Ukrainian center in the European Union was opened in Vilnius for citizens forced to leave Ukraine due to the war. During nine months of operation, the center organized 1,300 events for 17,000 guests and participants. The center holds daily classes, English, Lithuanian, and Ukrainian language conversation clubs, creative master classes, and sports sections, and general and psychological assistance is constantly provided. The center also has become home to such projects as Ukrainian Bookshelf, in which Ukrainian books are donated to foreign libraries, and Books without Borders, thanks to which Ukrainian books are printed and distributed to Ukrainian children abroad.
In addition, the Ukrainian Cultural Center created a Young think tank — a platform for meetings of Ukrainian and Lithuanian schoolchildren with politicians, diplomats, and public figures, so that children learn friendly international relations already now. For example, the ambassador of Japan in Lithuania personally gave lessons in meditation, Japanese calligraphy, and origami. The Polish Cultural Institute organized an exhibition of reproductions of Maria Prymachenko's paintings, and an Israeli artist of Ukrainian origin conducted a creative master class in the center.
In November, the Ukrainian House was opened in the large shopping complex in the center of the German city of Dresden, where several thousand Ukrainian citizens received temporary protection.
The cultural center already has a small library with about 400 Ukrainian-language books, an exhibition of paintings, and a place for classes with children of all ages. In addition, the Ukrainian House plans to hold various painting workshops, Ukrainian and German language courses, discussion clubs, and much more.
According to the organizers, the project involves working with three target audiences:
- refugees and people who received temporary protection;
- Ukrainians who have been living in Germany for a long time;
- German citizens and foreigners who need to be shown Ukrainian culture and explain what is actually happening in Ukraine.
On February 24, 2023, the non-governmental organization of cultural diplomacy — Ukraine House in Denmark — officially opened its doors in the center of Copenhagen for the first time. The Ukrainian House in Denmark aims to introduce people to Ukrainian culture and traditions. In addition, intercultural dialogues and various events dedicated to Ukrainian topics will be held in the building.
At the opening ceremony, the Minister of Culture of Denmark, Jakob Engel-Schmidt, expressed hope that the Ukrainian House in Denmark will further strengthen cultural ties and friendship between the two countries.
"I also hope this will be a House where you can express your innermost thoughts about art, culture, and being far from home here, in Denmark. Let the Ukrainian House be a place where you will glorify Ukrainian culture and the will to fight against invaders," he said, addressing the Ukrainians.
Even more useful solutions!
For the war to end sooner, people must unite even more — not only Ukrainians but also the entire civilized world. Ukrainians mustn't be forgotten abroad.
Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska considers it reasonable to create a network of Ukrainian cultural centers in European and Asian countries to maintain Ukraine's presence in the world cultural field. She expressed this opinion at the annual forum Creative Ukraine, emphasizing: the whole world's attention is currently focused on Ukraine because of the war, and this interest must be strengthened.
"I am very pleased that even now, in my personal contacts, I feel that not only the interest in our culture and Ukraine as a whole has increased — people in the world are beginning to distinguish Ukrainian culture from, for example, Russian, with which it was sometimes confused before. It's nice, and I'm sure we should continue our work," said Zelenska.
This material was created by the online media outlet Rubryka within the Ukrainian Rapid Response Fund program framework, implemented by IREX with the support of the US State Department. The content is the sole responsibility of the Rubryka online media outlet and does not necessarily reflect the views of IREX or the US State Department.
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