Parentes on peace for Ukrainian children in Ariège

the essential
Arriving on July 22 in France, 37 children from Kiev, Mariupol, Sloviansk, Severodonetsk, Kherson and Kharkiv are spending their holidays far from the war, thanks to the Yaroslavna Association and the city of Toulouse, who welcome them.

At the foot of the Ariège mountain in the Aulus-les-Bains park, the youngest enjoy climbing and chasing around a portico. And the elderly rediscover their youth on a bench, the time of self-confidence.

They are from 8 to 16 years old, arrived on July 22 in Toulouse and during the welcome party organized the following day for them in Longages, they each received two T-shirts for the holiday: one yellow, one blue. The Ukrainian and French colors mix there, and the herd sums up more than 30 years of friendship from the Garonne to the Dnieper, embodied by the Toulouse association “Yaroslavna Jumelage Toulouse-kyiv” (1). Impeccable, Tima is wearing yellow this afternoon.

“Freedom of Ukraine”

The last time he came to Ariège was in 2019. Two years of Covid, later the traditional reception of Ukrainian children at the Toulouse town hall in one of its holiday centers could finally resume. … But the Russian invasion is now ravaging his country. “Ukraine Freedom” also proclaims all their Tshirts now. “The war is terrible, we must stop it by all means, the international community must help us,” says Tima in perfect French. Before he found with his friends the carelessness due to vacationers.

The Yaroslavna association was founded in 1998 and since then has always developed exchanges with Kiev and Ukraine.
DDM/PC – Pierre Challier

On a hike to the Cascade des Fées or up in the trees to climb the trees, there is no longer anything that separates them from the young people of Toulouse whose daily lives they share. They laugh in the same way at volleyball, love “disco” nights and language is never an obstacle when you want to be together. The only nuance?
It could be that those from the Pink City make it a point of honor to spoil their guests, confides an adult. “We were very touched when they welcomed us with the drawings they had made for us,” says Irina, 14.

Most people have nightmares

“The French are very nice”, “open”, “very beautiful, very interesting”, also “the activities, it’s fantastic”, then the group is excited in a cascade of laughter, “enchanted by the mountain”. As for meals, it even touches on the wonderful, especially if there is “cordon bleus”, Irina still lights up. So.
But “be careful, fragile” also know their teachers who guide them. “Most people have nightmares, and many react to the slightest noise,” confirms Viktoria, psychologist. “We make sure they keep up with the news,” stressed Vera Grygorenko, a French teacher in Kiev, where “five alarms were still sounding” this Thursday, as the carnage continued elsewhere under Russian fire.

For 22 years, Vera has followed the Twin Cities. In recent weeks, she has not slept much to be able to offer this escape to her students and to other victims of the conflict. Until the last moment, with the president of Yaroslavna, Hugues Negretto, she had to struggle to find a bus. A swarm of children and teenagers descend on her to kiss her as soon as she appears, while the arms of her colleagues Irina and Marie multiply as there is so much to cuddle.

Vera Grygorenko made a video in French with her students of testimonies about their daily lives.

Vera Grygorenko made a video in French with her students of testimonies about their daily lives.
DDM/PC – Pierre Challier

Children from Kiev, but also from Mariupol, Sloviansk, Kherson or Severodonetsk, cities of martyrs: each of them carries their share of fear and tears recall certain looks that have suddenly had to grow in the face of violence, but each of them also wants to testify .
The gravity of faces that should not be their age. The war… “There are no words for it. It is beyond fear and panic, new emotions that cannot be expressed. To discover that you can die without warning, that the rocket falls and that you no longer exist”, summarizes Katia, 12, and her brother Vadim, 14, whose village was attacked by Russian tanks.

The figure of a wise angel, Bogdan is not 15 years old, and it is difficult to guess behind his shyness the Ukrainian Jiu-Jitsu champion. He now lives alone in Kropyvnytsky, in the center of the country, since he left Kherson three months ago, after hiding in the basement with his mother. A policeman, his father was drafted into the army “from day one”. Today, he is engaged somewhere near Kharkiv, where his mother joined him, with no immediate hope of returning home to a ruined city.

Kharkiv… “We left on March 3. My little sister couldn’t stand the explosions anymore,” continues Julie, 14, who was supposed to realize her dream of becoming a designer, but no longer has a school.

Three weeks in a cellar

“Tanks, rockets, planes, helicopters, three weeks in the basement in terrible cold,” rushes Dasha, 15, unable to forget Russian soldiers’ hunt for all men of fighting age in his occupied village of Ivankov. More bread. Only fish caught on site. “I’ll never be able to eat that again,” she adds, wanting to finish with a smile. When she left Kiev for Toulouse, 14-year-old Diana came looking for “a cheerful atmosphere, nice people”. She has no news about her father, engaged on the battlefield of Severodonetsk, in Donbass.

Holidays: brackets torn from the war. “In my country I am sad, in France I gain confidence. Everything is magical here,” says her neighbor. But no one forgets the country. “Ukrainians are suffering, they need everyone”: The message of the film they made in French , can be found on our site.

(1) Founded in 1998 by Henri and Lina Châtaignier, today managed by Hugues Negretto.

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