For Oleksandra, a Ukrainian refugee, “back to school in France is a new start”

Six months after the start of the war, some 20,000 young Ukrainian refugees in France are making their first start of school in France. Torn between the desire to find her loved ones and that of turning the page on the war, Oleksandra, 16, finally resigned herself to continuing her studies in the Paris region. Meet.

Thursday 1uh September marks the start of a new school year for the 12 million students in France. Among them, some 20,000 young Ukrainians, who have left their country since the start of the war on February 24, are making their first return to school in France.

With her jeans, her canvas sneakers and her matching cropped t-shirt, Oleksandra looks like a fashionable teenager like the others. Less carelessness.

“Here I have the impression that the characters are different, the interests too… The young people I met have a very light spirit, as if they had no problems in life” explains the young woman 16 years old, with a calm and composed tone, in almost perfect French.

This high school student who studied the language of Molière for ten years in Ukraine, fled the city of Kharkiv, near the Russian border, with her mother in early March. Like many Ukrainian refugees, Oleksandra maintained the hope of a quick return to her country. A prospect that she now prefers to dismiss despite the pain and the distance.

Warm welcome and administrative delays

After a stopover in Poland and then a stay with a relative in France, Oleksandra and her mother have been staying for almost two months now with a family in Asnières-sur-Seine, near Paris, who have provided them with a room . A temporary solution, set up by the Singa association, which specializes in citizen housing.

“We had a warm welcome, it’s a big house with a gym and even a karaoke” underlines Oleksandra amused. The young woman explained that she received a lot of help in France and considers herself lucky to be able to continue her studies there. Only downside: the administrative procedures that she finds much more complicated than in her country. “It sometimes takes several weeks to get the information and in August the whole country is on vacation, she is surprised. But we will get used to it.”

On the eve of the start of the school year, the young woman still does not know in which establishment she will be educated, or even if she will be able to return to school at the same time as the other students. Accompanied by her mother, Oleksandra comes to take stock of the situation at the office of the France Terre d’Asile association in Clichy, which accompanies displaced Ukrainians in their procedures.

“In kindergarten and primary, it’s simpler: they join normal classes because learning is easier. But in colleges and high schools, students can be placed in classes for non-French speakers, where we teach FLE (French as a foreign language) and this decision is up to the Academy”, explains the director of the association, Victoire Larzillière.

1uh July, Oleksandra was summoned for a French test at the Information and Orientation Center (CIO), which must determine her assignment. Since then, she has been waiting for a response from the Versailles Academy, which is slow in coming.

Adapted projects difficult to build

The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 caused a particular stir in Europe, where many initiatives have been put in place to help refugees. In the Hauts-de-Seine, where we work, there has been a real impetus from the population to offer solidarity accommodation, to the point that today we have a team dedicated to supporting these Ukrainian refugees housed in private individuals”, emphasizes Victoire Larzillière. “We have also noted that, due to geographical proximity, many Ukrainians arriving in France already have at least temporary drop-off points, with friends or family already settled in France this which facilitates language learning and professional integration.

Another advantage and not the least, the Ukrainians who fled the war benefit from the status of temporary protection, which authorizes them to work. But social services come up against another problem with these new exiles: the ability to project themselves and therefore to set up personalized projects.

“This wave of refugees does not correspond to the classic pattern because of the protection offered to Ukrainians in Europe, but also because of the uncertainty in which families find themselves,” says Victoire Larzillière. “Most of the exiles we welcome have decided to leave their country permanently, they are in a long-term process. This is the case for the Afghans, for example, who have been migrating for years. For the Ukrainians, the departure is sudden, this is the first time that they have fled a war. Some return to Ukraine for family reasons. Sometimes they return to France. They are not always ready to imagine a permanent settlement abroad.”

While more than seven million Ukrainians have fled their country since February 24, the United Nations refugee agency counted “2.3 million return movements to the country” at the beginning of June.

For Oleksandra, the decision to stay in France was not easy to make. “Before the war I had already planned to come here to study later. But when I arrived in the spring, I had other choices in mind than to enroll in school; I thought I could go home. or join relatives in another country.”

And to continue: “My mother speaks neither French nor English and the situation is not easy for her here. My grandmother with whom we lived in Ukraine could not come because she is old and cannot Relatives are taking care of them but I am very worried”, explains the young girl.

“Some say that the war will continue until the fall, others that it will last two years. I think it is not about to end, she sighs. For me this back to school in France, it’s a new start, a new stage in my life which comes with new difficulties. But that doesn’t scare me.”

Oleksandra was eventually contacted by the academy. The young girl who wants a career in IT has expressed the wish to join a first class with a mathematics specialty. She will return on September 5.


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