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Author of anti-trauma children’s book to read at school for young Ukrainians

The author of a book designed to help Ukrainian children deal with the trauma of war is set to read her work at a school in Surrey for refugees who fled Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian School Surrey was founded in Guildford on January 8 by a group of Ukrainian mothers, Guildford Borough Council and community volunteer group GUkraine, and runs 11 classes with 100 registered pupils every Sunday – teaching young refugees the Ukrainian language, history and traditions.

On Sunday, to mark one year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the school has invited author Di Redmond – who has also written for television series Postman Pat, Fireman Sam and Bob The Builder – to read from her latest book.

Rucksack, a children’s picture novel, is designed to help Ukrainian children and families work through anxiety and war trauma and tells the story of a boy who “leaves with a bag of memories”, fleeing war with only the contents of his backpack.

Di Redmond with her latest book Rucksack, a children’s novel designed to help Ukrainian refugees through war trauma (Maria Shevchenko/The Rucksack Project)
Di Redmond with her latest book Rucksack, a children’s novel designed to help Ukrainian refugees through war trauma (Maria Shevchenko/The Rucksack Project)

Speaking ahead of the event on Sunday, Ms Redmond told the PA news agency she hopes the novel provides “nothing but hope” for Ukrainian children and families.

“I wanted to do something for the children of Ukraine and I’d heard, nearly a year ago, that (Olena) Zelensky was looking desperately for books that would help displaced children suffering from trauma,” Ms Redmond said.

“I immediately thought (writing this book) is something I can definitely do.

“This is a book with a difference because it’s written during a war in a war zone, and it’s written together with psychologists from Children and War UK.

“It’s become a great tool in healing trauma of war.”

Pupils at the Ukrainian School Surrey in Guildford where they are taught about Ukrainian culture and language (The Ukrainian School Surrey)
Pupils at the Ukrainian School Surrey in Guildford where they are taught about Ukrainian culture and language (The Ukrainian School Surrey)

The book has an accompanying booklet advising children and parents how to approach anxiety and war trauma, developed by psychologists and therapists who worked with Ms Redmond on the story – which has received acclaim internationally including in Ukraine.

“It was said on Ukrainian national TV that the book actually heals the future of Ukraine,” the author said.

Ms Redmond worked alongside Ukrainian illustrator Lilia Martynyuk, from Zaporizhzhia, who drew the pictures for the book amidst the war in Ukraine.

“She actually illustrated this book under shelling from her basement in her hometown,” Ms Redmond said.

“She was illustrating a warzone that she was living through.”

Writing the book has been “overwhelming” for Ms Redmond and the children’s novel “has her heart”.

Classes at The Ukrainian School Surrey include Ukrainian language lesson and the history of Ukraine (The Ukrainian School Surrey)
Classes at The Ukrainian School Surrey include Ukrainian language lesson and the history of Ukraine (The Ukrainian School Surrey)

Anna Zednyk, 42, originally from Kyiv but now lives in Guildford, is the president and co-founder of the Ukrainian School Surrey.

Based at the Hive on Park Barn Drive, the school is volunteer-led and currently has 100 pupils aged between four and 15.

It is open every Sunday and there are 11 classes including the history of Ukraine, Ukrainian language lessons, geography of Ukraine, maths, literature, art and drama.

“This school is very much needed,” said Ms Zednky.

“I’m sharing a piece of my soul and knowledge that will be advantageous to our young Ukrainians.”

The Ukrainian School Surrey currently has 100 pupils aged four to 15 (The Ukrainian School Surrey)
The Ukrainian School Surrey currently has 100 pupils aged four to 15 (The Ukrainian School Surrey)

Ms Zednky said she is “very much looking forward” to meeting Ms Redmond at the event.

“It’s very warm feelings when you read this book and see these pictures,” Ms Zednky explained.

“I think it’s very important to help Ukrainian children adapt more easily when they return home to Ukraine.”

Ms Zednky hopes the school will “preserve our Ukrainian identity” despite being far from home.