London Ukrainian school grows fourfold as refugees seek refuge in capital

Tetiana Bohatynska pictured with her sons Danylo, 5, and Oleh, 8, at St Mary’s Ukrainian School  (Daniel Hambury)
Tetiana Bohatynska pictured with her sons Danylo, 5, and Oleh, 8, at St Mary’s Ukrainian School (Daniel Hambury)

London’s largest Ukrainian school has almost quadrupled in size since the war began, expanding into five new premises as refugee families continue to find refuge in the capital.

St Mary’s Ukrainian school in Holland Park now has 800 pupils, compared to around 220 a year ago, and the number of staff has increased by 350 per cent.

And numbers are still growing, with around ten newly arrived refugee children turning up to the Saturday school every week seeking the normality of school life after their education was ripped apart by the war.

Nearby schools and nurseries have offered up their premises for free to enable the school to expand, while pupils from some of London’s most prestigious private schools are working there as volunteer English teachers.

Headteacher Inna Hryhorovych said there are plans to open three more satellite schools in Richmond, Kingston and Kent to cope with the demand.

She said: “If we don’t look after the wellbeing and education of these Ukrainian children, that’s us losing the war in ten or twenty years time. Because they are the ones to return and rebuild Ukraine. They are the future of Ukraine. Ukraine needs these children.

“That is why the soldiers are on the frontline, protecting the country for these children and for their wellbeing.”

She added: “Ukraine has always been proud of how intelligent the nation is. The intelligent nation builds the future. We cannot let Putin take this away from us.”

She said education will also help Ukrainian children recover from the trauma that they have been through, adding: “Trauma has shaken their whole world and we have a duty to help them with that.”

Pupils who attend every Saturday follow the Ukrainian curriculum in the morning, then have two hours of English lessons followed by enrichment subjects including choir, martial arts and financial literacy.

Mrs Hryhorovych said that although most of the Ukrainian children are now in mainstream English schools during the week, families want them to also continue with their Ukrainian curriculum. She said: “There is a lot of worry among parents that when they go back to Ukraine their children will be behind. It is interesting how psychologically the parents are still expecting they will be home literally tomorrow.”

Danylo and Oleh have moved back to Ukraine with their mother Tetiana Bohatynska (Handout)
Danylo and Oleh have moved back to Ukraine with their mother Tetiana Bohatynska (Handout)

Kateryna Sokol enrolled two of her sons at St Mary’s when they first arrived in London from Ukraine last Spring. Since then she has herself become a teacher at the school.

She lives with friends in Wimbledon and her sons aged 13 and 7 are settled into Rutlish School and St Matthew’s in Merton where they are happy. She told the Standard: “The boys enjoy going to school. They are lucky to have such amazing teachers at their schools.”

Mrs Sokol originally had to leave behind her husband, a food factory worker, when she fled Kostiantynivka, in the eastern Donbas region, but he has now come to London. Her oldest son stayed in Slovakia where he remains safe.

Mrs Sokol said the friends she has been staying with have “become our family” but added: “It is difficult. Lots of my relatives and friends are still in Ukraine. Every morning starts with checking the news and texting them.”

Tetiana Bohatynska, a 26-year-old teacher who featured in the Evening Standard when she arrived in London in March, has now returned to Ukraine to continue teaching.

She had travelled to London with her sons Oleh, 8, and Danylo, 5, leaving her husband Andrii behind in Ternopil in western Ukraine.

But her mother Olha Zuky told the Standard: “My daughter and grandchildren returned to Ukraine. She is a teacher and all Ukrainian children need education. Our children are our future, the future of Ukraine. Therefore I am very proud of my daughter’s choice. She is a true patriot of her country.”

Mrs Zuyk, who lives in London, said classrooms have been set up in the basement of her daughter’s school for when the air raid siren sounds. She added: “When it is calm, everyone studies as usual in classes. Life goes on. And we all hope that this horror will end soon.”