The Ukrainian Language and Culture Saturday School in Olomouc originally served mixed Ukrainian-Czech families. Through Saturday classes, the school sought to maintain children’s awareness of their Ukrainian parents’ native language and culture. That all changed after Russia invaded Ukraine. Since last September, the school has been functioning as a meeting place for all Ukrainian families in Olomouc. Like most other Ukrainian refugees in other cities and countries, none of those in Olomouc know at the moment if they will ever return to Ukraine. Still, they want their children to maintain an awareness of their native identity and language. The families involved in the school try to help each other and newcomers get practical information from those who have been here for a while. Many of the Ukrainian children meeting the school are joined by their Czech friends, making it an inclusive environment. The Ukrainian Language and Culture Saturday School in Olomouc and almost 200 similar activities were supported by Via’s Welcoming Ukraine program.
“Once the war ends and Ukraine emerges victorious, we will return home with the experience we have gained from you. When we rebuild our country, we will add some of the good things that we have seen here.”
The program Welcoming Ukraine was born spontaneously, just like people’s willingness to help refugees immediately after war broke out. In addition to humanitarian aid, it was important to address how to welcome refugees into our midst – neighbor to neighbor, colleague to colleague, classmate to classmate. At Via Foundation, we believe that it makes sense to help others from the bottom-up, locally, from within the community. Our partners Seznam.cz, the Kooperativa Foundation, Česká spořitelna bank and Bader Philanthropies, Inc. shared this view and helped us launch the program. Individual donors also contributed a significant amount to the program though the annual Via Charitable Auction.
SUPPORTING DEDICATED VOLUNTEERS
The program was designed to support individuals, groups of friends as well as small organizations. People had typically thrown themselves into helping refugees spontaneously, often as volunteers, but after a few weeks or months they began to feel worn out. Moreover, their resources often ran out. Thanks to our donors, we were able to provide support quickly, with little paperwork, and to offer repeat grants where suitable. At the beginning we provided small grants of up to CZK 20,000 ($910) and after six months we increased our support to CZK 100,000 ($4550). We also held regular online meetings where grant recipients could share their experiences.
In a nutshell:
- The program ran from April 2022 to April 2023.
- We supported a total of 195 activities with CZK 9,051,885 ($411,000).
- Most of the support was directed to volunteer-run Czech language courses, neighborhood events and fundraisers, leisure activities for children and adults or day camps and cultural events.
- Most activities took place in Prague, Central Bohemia and South Moravia.
COOPERATION IS KEY
Some local initiatives have gained the support of their municipality and local businesses. One example is the Kalyna Community Centre, which opened in April 2023 in the city of Pardubice. The center’s staff is planning a program to connect Ukrainian and Czech residents, including activities for children such as day camps and language courses. “It’s not just about making Ukrainian children happy. The opportunity to spend active time in a Czech environment and perceive the Czech language is very beneficial for their integration into society,” says one of the local teachers and organizers of an adaptation stay for Czech and Ukrainian children. She says that the Ukrainian children’s joy is immense and visible, and their parents express their gratitude with tears in their eyes.
A similar example of fruitful collaboration between a local association and a municipality can be found in Prague 5, where Ukrainian immigrants already make up almost ten percent of the population. Since 2017, the Hájovna association has been operating a community centre in the Cibulka Forest Park. Markéta Fléglová and Dagmar Šormová are trying to improve it with the support of the local municipality and help from other volunteers. People can take part in various workshops and courses, a summer outdoor cinema and planting beds, which are tended by both children and adults. The center’s “Babushkas Welcome” project focuses on teaching Czech to Ukrainian senior citizens, which is perhaps a somewhat neglected and vulnerable group.
Looking back at the year-long Welcoming Ukraine program, we are grateful to our generous donors, which made it possible to turn an idea into reality. In addition to providing funding, they actively participated in the time-consuming evaluation of applicants’ projects. We also thank all the donors from the 2022 Via Charitable Auction, where we raised CZK 2,269,000 for local initiatives integrating Ukrainians into Czech communities.