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This LA Faculty Is Serving to Ukrainian Refugee Youngsters Keep Their Tradition


It was the primary day of faculty one latest Saturday at Ridna Shkola of Los Angeles, a Saturday college that has taught Ukrainian tradition, language and historical past to generations of Ukrainian American youngsters rising up in LA

A handful of academics and mother or father volunteers went over binders and books as they watched the clock. The children would arrive any minute — and this 12 months, there can be plenty of them.

“Final 12 months we had about 20 youngsters, this 12 months we now have about 45,” mentioned mother or father committee chair Katya Zhylka. “I take into consideration a 3rd of them are coming from Ukraine.”

Till not too long ago, many of the college students who got here to Ridna Shkola have been the kids and grandchildren of immigrants like Zhylka, who left Ukraine years in the past and whose daughter was born within the US

However this 12 months is completely different, as Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion have been settling in LA

“It isn’t straightforward shifting to a different nation, however I feel if you find yourself shifting below circumstances like warfare, it’s even more durable,” Zhylka mentioned. “So I simply need them to really feel welcomed, secure.”


Earlier than lengthy, the primary households started arriving, greeted by employees and volunteers with a hearty “pryvit!” (“hey”) as they trickled in.

Mother and father and youngsters arrive for the primary day of sophistication on Sept. 10 at Ridna Shkola of Los Angeles.

(Leslie Berestein Rojas



Some youngsters carried backpacks and notebooks. They ranged from preschool to center college age, most of them on the youthful aspect. Some have been wearing conventional Ukrainian embroidered shirts, or in blue and gold, the colours of the Ukrainian flag. One little woman bounced excitedly in a poofy pink occasion gown, her mother in tow.

The varsity is housed in just a few small lecture rooms above the Ukrainian Tradition Heart on Melrose Avenue. As soon as everybody arrived, dad and mom and youngsters went downstairs and gathered within the Tradition Heart’s important corridor to assessment college enterprise and sing the Ukrainian nationwide anthem.

Afterwards, the children shuffled upstairs, most of them adopted by dad and mom snapping images.

Young children sit at circular tables inside a small classroom.

Youthful Ridna Shkola college students on the primary day of courses.

(Leslie Berestein Rojas



After just a few hugs and a few tears, courses started. Within the greatest classroom, the place the 6- and 7-year-olds sat, instructor Laryssa Golocach held up a big image e book with a map of Ukraine and started her lesson.

Just a few youngsters raised their palms, and with that, the college 12 months at Ridna Shkola was underway.

‘We Assist Every Different’

Downstairs in the primary corridor of the cultural heart, a number of dad and mom chatted and checked their telephones as they waited. They sat at tables brightly adorned for a marriage later that night time.

Against a blue and gold stage, a woman speaks into a microphone.

Ridna Shkola college director Victoria Kuzina, left, and mother or father committee chair Katya Zhylka, proper, tackle dad and mom and youngsters in the primary corridor of the Ukrainian Tradition Heart.

(Courtesy of Igor Kosenko)

Anna, a younger mom, waited for her two youngsters, ages 9 and 6.

“I got here to Los Angeles 4 months in the past with my household from Ukraine,” mentioned Anna, who did not need her final title used as a result of she fears for the security of relations again house.

She instructed a harrowing story of fleeing Kyiv together with her husband and youngsters within the early hours of Feb. 24, when the Russian airstrikes started. They made it to Austria, then to LA just a few months later.

At first they did not know anybody right here, Anna mentioned. However they finally realized of the cultural heart, then Ridna Shkola.

“It’s our language and our faculty,” she mentioned. “I need that they’ll proceed to study Ukrainian.”

Nearly as importantly, turning into a part of the college neighborhood has helped ease the household’s loneliness, Anna mentioned. The children have been capable of attend just a few courses earlier than summer time break, and he or she’s been assembly different Ukrainians by the college and cultural heart.

“They discovered plenty of associates,” Anna mentioned, “and I’ve additionally discovered new associates. We’re collectively, we help one another.”

Svitlana Blazhko waited for her 4-year-old daughter Vira, the woman within the pink occasion gown. By a translator, Blazhko mentioned that final February, she, her older daughter de ella, and Vira traveled to Kyiv from their small city aspiring to fly to LA, the place her mom de ella lives.

A little girl with blond hair and a pink bow poses with her smiling mother.

Svitlana Blazhko and her 4-year-old daughter Vira, who’s now attending Ridna Shkola. The household left Ukraine shortly after the Russian invasion started.

(Leslie Berestein Rojas



However one in all them examined constructive for COVID-19 earlier than flying, she mentioned, they usually have been grounded. As they waited in Kyiv, the invasion started. They finally escaped to Poland.

As soon as they arrived in LA final spring, Blazhko started bringing Vira to the Saturday college. She mentioned it is given them a way of neighborhood, and helps Vira alter.

“It is socialization,” she mentioned by a translator. “Then it is the information of Ukrainian tradition, Ukrainian language, and communication with youngsters like her.”

‘We Are All Household’

The custom behind Ridna Shkola dates again to earlier generations of Ukrainian immigrants. LA’s college opened greater than 50 years in the past, in keeping with its web site. There are related faculties educating Ukrainian language, tradition, artwork, historical past and music in different US cities with Ukrainian diasporas, together with San Francisco, Sacramento, Chicago, and New York.

“Ridna Shkola” doesn’t translate neatly into English. Shkola means “college,” however ridna “means, like, ‘relative,’” mentioned college director Victoria Kuzina. “My daughter, I can name her ‘my ridna.’”

A woman with brown hair in a blue dress carried an armful of binders.

Ridna Shkola director Victoria Kuzina on the primary day of faculty.

(Leslie Berestein Rojas



Kuzina says this acquainted feeling is very vital now, as the college neighborhood absorbs new youngsters and households who left the whole lot behind.

“That is most likely the most secure place for them, as a result of we all know who they’re, they usually know who we’re,” she mentioned. “So we perceive them.”

For instance, on that first Saturday of courses, a instructor who hails from a metropolis that was liberated by Ukrainian troops had excitedly are available with the information. As a college neighborhood, Kuzina mentioned, they expertise the emotional rollercoaster of the warfare collectively.

“We’re all household,” she mentioned. “I feel that is crucial… We perceive most likely higher than different individuals what they [went] by.”

‘I Do not Need Her To Lose This Connection’

After a few hours, some households with youthful youngsters started heading out. Within the foyer together with his household he was 3-year-old Perun, carrying a vintage-looking t-shirt that learn “Ukraine” on the entrance.

It was his first day at Ridna Shkola, and I requested him what he realized: “I realized Ukrainian!” I’ve blurred matter-of-factly.

A little boy with blond hair in a t-shirt that reads

Three-year-old Perun waits to begin his first day at Ridna Shkola. He is fourth-generation Ukrainian American. The t-shirt as soon as belonged to his grandfather.

(Leslie Berestein Rojas



The t-shirt, it seems, as soon as belonged to his grandfather as a baby. Perun’s mom, Larissa Paschyn, mentioned it has been within the household for generations.

“Each of my grandparents got here from… Ukraine after World Warfare II,” mentioned Paschyn, who grew up in Cleveland. Her husband de ella can be of Ukrainian descent by the use of Australia.

“I went to Ukrainian faculties as nicely rising up,” Paschyn mentioned. “We all the time figured as soon as we had youngsters, we would attempt to get them concerned within the Ukrainian heritage as nicely, particularly the language … when he was sufficiently old, we signed him up.”

Paschyn’s was not the one first-year household that was already settled within the US. Some mentioned the warfare triggered a need to share their roots with their youngsters.

Yuliia Handzi, who’d introduced her two youngsters, 8 and 4, mentioned she grew up in Odessa and has lived in LA for greater than six years.

A woman in blue sits with her young son, who has his arm around her neck.

Yuliia Handzi and her son Mark, 4. Handzi, who has lived in LA for a number of years, says the warfare has spurred a need to show her youngsters extra about their Ukrainian roots.

(Leslie Berestein Rojas



At house, she used to talk principally Russian — however after the warfare started, she wished her youngsters to embrace their Ukrainian identification.

“I acknowledged that my youngsters, they do not know so much about Ukrainian traditions,” Handzi mentioned. “I wish to educate my youngsters that we’re not Russian, that we’re Ukrainian.”

Fairly quickly courses have been over, and it was time to go house. The little youngsters got here out of their lecture rooms clutching artwork and schoolwork to indicate their dad and mom.

Six-year-old Brianna excitedly displayed a poem to her mom, Sofiia Henyk. The 2 of them simply arrived in LA about three months in the past. They have been staying with a relative in Pasadena, Henyk mentioned, and Brianna has begun common college. However when she heard about Ridna Shkola, she did not hesitate to signal Brianna up.

“I do not need her to lose this connection,” Henyk mentioned. “She ought to know the place she begins from.”

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