PM visits Riga Ukrainian school after Kyiv trip

Students at the Riga Ukrainian High School are getting used to new classmates arriving from the homeland in mid-year as more families relocate here from war-torn Ukraine, worried about their future there. Meanwhile, education is what Latvia’s government is planning to offer Ukraine as it faces its veritable existential crisis under pressure from pro-Russian separatists.

Kids will be kids – at recess they laugh and talk, horse around, play sports together. But some of them recently arrived from Crimea, Kyiv, or elsewhere in Ukraine have some extra baggage besides their school backpacks – their real experiences of life since the Maidan – like Denis.

He told Latvian Television news Panorama that “freedom in 1991 was like a free gift for Ukraine that nobody thought they had to pay for.

But life is like the supermarket: take as much as you want, but the cash register awaits you. You have to pay for it all. I believe it’s worth paying the price that Ukraine hasn’t yet fully paid. “

Denis said he found it easier to study in Latvia than in Kyiv. He seems to be learning better, it’s just the Latvian language he still needs to learn well enough to speak.

More than twenty new schoolchildren have joined the student body here, mostly in the high school grades. Only two of them have officially been granted refugee status.

“The families of the other kids have assumed property ownership and residency permits on their own here, privately,” explains Egīls Vilkaušs, the school’s counselor.

“These are the children who were able to leave the events behind because their parents made the decision that they’d take their chances for the future now in Latvia. To live, make a career, and so forth,” he explained.

The school’s Latvian-language teacher Solvita Suhanova insists the youth who have arrived in the previous semester are feeling a great motivation to learn Latvian, “because they feel that to know many languages in a multi-lingual environment we receive more opportunity to learn.

So because the school is a friendly place then, to tell you the truth, we do not speak to children about politics. We make friends. We talk about culture, literature, the language."

Meanwhile on Monday the government ministers agreed in principle to set aside funding for the higher education of fifteen Ukrainian students in one of Latvia’s universities.

“That’s what the Ukrainian side wants,” asserted Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma, fresh from her weekend visit to Kyiv to mark the anniversary of last year’s Maidan mass uprising and visiting the school in its emotionally-charged wake. “They want us to help prepare some of their next young specialists. This is fresh news, not fully accepted at Cabinet level, but just about to be,” she said with a smile.

“Education and experience, these two things, are what I see Latvia offering besides technical assistance – people who get the education and experience of the reform process here in Latvia,” she said.

The class the premier visited at the Ukrainian-track pre-school today were a sincere but shy bunch. The head of Latvia’s government shared with the kids that she still feels a lump in her throat thinking about what she experienced on her visit Saturday and Sunday in Kyiv, which reminded her so sharply of the time of Latvia’s fight for freedom.

While not brave enough to ask the prime minister many questions, they did line up smiling to take one selfie after another with her, which is not something just anybody can boast about on the social networks.

 

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