‘Pastoral staff deal with children’s fear of World War every day’

Schools across the Black Sea region are working hard to support colleagues in Ukraine and address their own pupils’ concerns, writes Stephen Priest

Refugees fleeing Ukraine

The Black Sea Schools Group is a loose grouping of COBIS member schools in Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine. We came together and started collaborating in 2018 at an initial meeting we held at BIS Ukraine in Kyiv.

Since that time we have hosted student face-to-face events in Ankara, Kyiv and Tbilisi and numerous online student events and staff CPD and networking events. It has been an honour to have served the group as chair since our inception and work with such a fantastic group of school leaders and their staff.

When one of your members is in trouble is when you see the strength of any organisation and this has been the case following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and our support of the British International School Ukraine (BISU).

Since before the invasion, we have been in contact with our good friend and fellow principal, David Cole. He is an inspiration to all school leaders in how he has personally dealt with the ultimate crisis.

“We are offering places at our schools for the students of Kyiv’s international schools.”

Remaining in contact with David is one thing we can do just to let him know we are there. However, as a group of schools we have worked together to support BISU staff and students where possible and also to support, in honour of BISU, child refugees from the crisis.

We quickly convened a meeting and discussed what we could do to help. This included offering places at our schools for the students of Kyiv’s international schools and assistance and accommodation for BISU staff. Our individual school and parent communities have led on initiatives to collect physical resources for refugees.

One of our British International School in Tblisi parents has already collected over three tonnes of resources with support from other parents and the International Women’s Association of Georgia. These needed items include nappies, blankets, medicines and foodstuffs.

Black Sea Schools have also set up a financial donations online collection in association with the Romanian Red Cross.

Our schools have diverse communities who are directly and indirectly affected by the war in Ukraine. Most of our schools have Ukrainian families who need support and in particular support for their children who are worried about extended family members and friends in Ukraine.

“Children have an uncanny ability to pick up on the emotions of parents and other adults.”

Even very young children, whose parents may think they have isolated the children from the horrific news seen on the TV, are affected — they have an uncanny ability to pick up on the emotions of parents and other adults. Children of all ages have difficulties processing these emotions and need well-being support.

Virtually all our schools also have Russian children and many of them are concerned about how they will be perceived by others in their communities. Children of other nationalities are not immune from the impacts of the war. Talk of World War 3 and a widening of the conflict is something school pastoral staff are now dealing with on a daily basis.

“There is a fear in Georgia and Moldova that we could be next.”

There is also heightened concern amongst the school community in countries like Georgia and Moldova. Here in Georgia, there are already Russian troops on the ground in the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia is still fresh in the minds of many. Similar feelings are evident in Moldova, where they can actually hear the bombardment of Odessa over the border, a country that has its own Russian-backed breakaway province. There is a fear in these two small countries that we could be next.

It has been fantastic however to see how the international school community globally has been more than willing to support our member school, BISU, and the efforts to support refugees. COBIS and Colin Bell are, for us Black Sea Schools, the “mother ship” and it has been much appreciated by all the level of support we have received.