The new school year has started in many places. Also for Victoria. In March she fled Ukraine with her mother, grandmother and brother.
It’s a big day for Viktoria: the first day of school in Switzerland. She wants to learn the language and make friends, says the first-grader and, holding her mother Alona’s hand, climbs the stairs to her classroom. Teacher Lilian Gasser welcomes her new class.
Refugees in Switzerland – life in Riggisberg
How does the integration of Ukrainian refugee families in Switzerland look like? Radio SRF accompanied a host family in Riggisberg BE, which has been hosting refugees since 2015. A family from the Ukraine has been living with the Wilhelmis for a few months. In a three-part series, host families and refugees talk about their new everyday lives. The Wilhelmis also tell how the private reception of refugees can be successful.
Alona holds the mobile phone to her daughter and takes photos so that the father in the Ukraine can at least witness his daughter’s start at school. Viktoria is the only refugee child from Ukraine in her class. Teacher Gasser says: “We try to take them with us as naturally as possible, but with additional support.”
After the singing, the children make a caterpillar out of paper – and then it’s time for the parents to go. Viktoria hugs her mother tightly and gives her a sunflower to take home.
Alona worries about her children, on the one hand because of the language – and also because the children use the school bus to get to school. This is new for her: “At home we were very close to the school and didn’t need a school bus.”
For Viktoria it is the second time she has started school – the first was a year ago in Zaporizhia. Her mother shows pictures of it: The whole family beams into the camera, has dressed up. Viktoria hugs her brother Dima, father Maxim stands behind her, mother holds a yellow balloon.
Today the school bag is the same, but Viktoria’s life is different. Now she lives in Riggisberg, half the family – father, grandfather and uncle – stayed in Ukraine.
“The missiles are getting closer. More and more of them hit the outskirts. But at least our houses are still there,” says Alona in the Wilhelmis garden, with the fountain rippling in the background. And then there is the embattled nuclear power plant in Zaporizhia.
Alona is afraid and homesick. And yet she tries to stay strong – for her children. “When I see what is happening to the children in Ukraine – and then know that the children are safe here, that gives me strength.”
It is clear to everyone that Alona’s family will stay with Wilhelmis in Riggisberg longer than the three months originally planned. “I really, really want to go home. But my husband and I have decided that going back is just too dangerous at the moment.”
Looking for a job
Alona wants to look ahead – learn the language, look for a job. The banker has protection status S and is attending a German course. But that’s not enough. Christine Wilhelmi also helps with the job search.
“I really hope she finds something. She would very much like to work in a kitchen, in cleaning or in a laundry. That suits her very well. At home she worked in banking. At the moment that’s not possible in Switzerland, she realizes that. But fortunately she has a lot of skills,” says Wilhelmi.
A few days ago, Alona responded to an ad on the Internet. In the field of tourism, it was said, with good earnings. But then came out, behind it was an offer from the sex trade. Alona keeps looking.
“Already two girlfriends”
Midday, school is over, a good-humoured Viktoria gets off the school bus near Wilhelmi’s house. Everything worked. She already has two friends in the new class, she says – and runs towards the garden, which – at least for a while – has also become her home.