Summer fun in Denbighshire helps Ukrainian refugee children escape their nightmares for a while
Ukrainian children who fled their war-torn homeland have for the first time found a way to escape their nightmares thanks to a fun-filled summer school in Wales.
Organisers of the two-week Schools Out! free activities programme run by Denbighshire Music Co-operative have rallied to support homesick young refugees and their families who have taken shelter in the county.
The young refugees include a young girl from one city dubbed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as immensely courageous following the conflict with the Russian invaders.
Varvara Los and her family come from Chernihiv which was officially designated with the honourable title of ‘Hero City’ by the Ukrainian leader after it withstood a brutal siege by Russian forces in February.
Dasha Andronova and Sasha Babich who also attended Schools Out! come from the city of Kryvyy Rih in central Ukraine.
The pair of young cousins said for the first time since they arrived in North Wales they had felt able to push away their worries for a short time, after attending the summer school.
According to Denbighshire Music Co-operative, they were determined to offer a welcome sanctuary for the children whose families were forced to flee when Russia invaded Ukraine.
Dasha, aged eight, who is staying near Tremeirchion with her mum and godmother, said she dreadfully misses her father and grandparents who are still living in the midst of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s terrifying and unabated assault.
But she said attending the summer school at Ysgol Brynhyfryd, Ruthin, took her mind off the deep sadness she feels about missing her loved ones thousands of miles away.
She said: “It is hard, I think about them all the time. But coming to the summer school has helped me feel less sad. Everyone is kind and friendly and we love joining in the music and sports sessions. It is the first time we have started to feel relaxed since we arrived here about two months ago.”
She especially enjoys learning piano and was thrilled to have a go on a Welsh harp, an instrument which she has only ever seen before in pictures.
As a further gesture of support Denbighshire Music Co-operative is funding music lessons for the Ukrainian children and it has provided a keyboard for Dasha to take home and practice on at her family’s accommodation.
Her tutor Dylan Cernyw was one of the Denbighshire Music Co-operative teachers helping at the summer school.
He said: “She has done amazingly well given all that she and her cousin Sasha have been through these last few months.”
Dasha said village life in north Wales is very different from her and cousin Sasha’s home city of Krivoy Rog, the seventh most populous city in Ukraine.
Sasha, aged nine, said he very much misses his home but he is grateful for the warm welcome he has received in Denbighshire.
He said: “The summer school is lots of fun and we have quickly made some good friends.”
Varvara, aged seven, said she was also excited to be attending the summer school and making new pals in Wales.
She enjoyed the sports sessions and particularly the group skipping session using a giant rope.
Heather Powell, founder and head of service with the not-for-profit Denbighshire Music Co-operative, said organisers did not hesitate to reach out to the Ukrainian families.
She said: “It is dreadful to think of the atrocities which have befallen Ukraine and the trauma which has led to these children being so suddenly separated from their homes and their loved ones. They are having to adapt to a way of life and culture vastly different from what they are used to, a new language, new schools, new accommodation. It is only right that we do everything possible to ease the transition for them.”
One young local who held out the hand of friendship to the newcomers is Nena Hilditch, aged nine, a pupil of Ysgol Pen Barras, Ruthin.
She was presented with a trophy by Heather as a thank you for being so kind to Dasha, Sasha and Varvara.
Nena said she wanted to make them feel as welcome as possible in the Denbighshire community.
She said: “It is nice to meet people from other countries and share stories with them about our different cultures and traditions. They have taught me some Russian words and I have tried to help them as they learn English and also some Welsh language phrases.
“It is doubly difficult for them as they have two languages to learn here in Denbighshire but they have done really well and we can quite easily understand them after just a short time.”
Nena was pleased that new friend Dasha enjoys playing football, just like her and likes the music sessions at the summer school.
Dasha was hoping to take part in a talent show as part of the varied summer school activities programme.
Sasha said one of his favourite activities was ‘Tug’, a traditional test of strength with two teams pulling against each other at opposite ends of a giant rope.
Joining in the Tug game was Denbighshire councillor Mark Young, who is chairman of North Wales Music Co-operative which runs the group in Denbighshire and a sister organisation in Wrexham.
He said: “It is wonderful to see the children here so enthusiastic and just having fun. It’s a credit to the co-operative and all its members that they have so willingly given their support to Ukrainian families facing such dire circumstances.”
He added: “It’s heart-warming to watch how quickly friendships can be forged so naturally between young children from such different backgrounds. If only we as adults could learn from them then maybe we could bring an end to troubles all around the world.”
Heather added that the annual summer schools were funded by the Welsh Government Summer of Fun project with support from Denbighshire County Council, and they have been a real success story.
She said: “This year in Denbighshire we’ve had more than 150 youngsters aged between seven and 12 take part. Parents have clamoured to secure places for their children.
“We have done our best to accommodate everyone and we’re hugely proud to have welcomed a group of children from Ukraine. Their families have found a safe haven within our community and local children have gone out of their way to make friends with them and encourage them to join in all the Schools Out! activities.”
That includes energetic sports and games sessions led by Commando X-Fit which works in partnership with the Denbighshire Music Co-operative to provide a varied summer school format.
Founded by ex-Royal Marines, Adam White and Dan Harrison, Commando X-Fit tailor exercise programmes to suit different age groups and abilities. As well as contributing to the summer schools they have their own gym and H/Q at The Old Pump House, Rhos-on-Sea.
Adam said: “Our CFX teams focus on mental wellbeing techniques and the way that keeping active and mobile can be uplifting for the state of mind, even at a young age. That is especially important with children who have been though such traumatising events as the situation in Ukraine. It is vital to offer them a way to release their anxieties and take their minds off any ongoing fears and worries.”
Denbighshire Music Co-operative matches potential students to freelance music tutors registered to deliver instrumental and singing lessons across the region.
Lessons are offered through a combination of in-school and after-school lessons.
The co-operative also runs a number of ensembles and choirs, plus well-being courses during the school summer holidays.
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Long time since I last saw Kryvyy Rih referred to in English by its Russian name.