At the Palace of Versailles, Ukrainian children enjoy a cultural break

“We say good Louis XIV, not Ludovic XIV, right? », whispers Lilia Dorundiak. She strains her ears to listen to the guide’s answer. This French-Ukrainian is attentive and accompanies a group of Ukrainian children visiting the Palace of Versailles on Saturday 30 July. A few meters before entering the impressive hall of mirrors, the 38 one-day tourists discover the history of the guard room. They take advantage of this space, less popular with visitors, to inspect the room, the parquet, the windows, the gilding… And sit cross-legged for a few minutes. The visit is organized by the Ukrainian embassy, ​​as part of a cycle of excursions for refugee children in France since the beginning of the war that ravaged their homeland Ukraine.

Liliia Dorundiak has lived in France since 2015. At the end of February, she became the coordinator of the unit dedicated to young Ukrainians, established by the Academic Center for the Education of Newly Arrived Children (Casnav). It is in this capacity that it is the benchmark for Versailles business. Mathematics teacher and doctor of natural sciences, she divides her time between the academy in Paris and the academy in Créteil, where she supports the team that takes care of allophone children. She uses her knowledge of both countries’ school programs to help children continue to learn their native language while immersing themselves in French culture. In addition to the Ukrainian language courses she gives in three specialized locations (in the 7th, 12th and 16th arrondissements of Paris), she coordinates excursions for refugee children and the Ukrainian diaspora.

Ukrainian visitors in the royal chapel.

Embassy of Ukraine in France / Liliia Dorundiak

“With all my heart and all my love, I try to help those who come from my country. I feel it as a duty. When the war started, it hurt me a lot. I cried almost every day,” she says. So for to face sadness and anxiety, she strives to lighten the spirits of children. This excursion to the Palace of Versailles is intended to be a moment of discovery and beauty. This is the second organized in this context, aimed at 4-18 year olds and relatives who want to accompany them. The sessions are very popular among refugee families: “There are a lot of people who still wanted to book for today, when we are full. I have more than 16 people signed up on August 31 and 12 people until the 5th of October already,” the professor enthuses. She is not surprised by this enthusiasm. Children who have arrived in France in recent months rarely have the opportunity to have fun. This is evident from their serious faces and drawn drag. On their backpacks stamped Ville de Paris or Pieces Jaunes, pins in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. Liliia Dorundiak herself is dressed in an impeccably flowing sky blue suit, accessorized with a pair of yellow open shoes. ONE fashion statement Marie-Antoinette would not have refused.

A visit to allow children to “be children”

The Wizard of the Castle, Aurelie Borg, takes visitors on the route on King’s Day. The goal: “To show children what to see – hall of mirrors, royal chapel, king’s bedroom – while taking them through the king’s apartments so they can soak up the place as well as the throngs of tourists. The visit therefore begins where Louis XIV began his days, that is, in the chapel. Successful effect: the children drop their jaws in amazement when they enter the building. Some even put their hand over their mouth. Very quickly, those old enough to have a phone will take it out to immortalize the height of the ceiling. Liliia Dorundiak understands their wonder: “Versailles… it is the dream of a lifetime to see it, she believes. Going beyond what you read in the manuals to see it in person is insane. In Ukraine we have many castles, but no equivalent to this one. The children laugh heartily when they learn that a marquise wore a bearskin under her dress to keep warm in the winter. Their parents question the importance of religion to Louis XIV, king “by divine right”.

To explain the construction of the chapel, the guide speaks slowly: next to her, a young woman with soft features translates into the Ukrainian language for visitors. All are equipped with an audio telephone. Tatiana Karabyn originally comes from Ukraine and has lived in France since 2017. She uses her mastery of Molière’s language to make herself understood by the 38 Ukrainians with the microphone in hand. She is also a teacher and explains that she volunteered to take part in all the actions set up in France to welcome refugees. “All my family and friends are in Ukraine, that’s what worries me every day. Every minute even. From one minute to the next, we don’t know what can happen,” she laments. For her, it’s essential , that the children who have found refuge in France “can be children” without the shadow of war further staining their daily lives.

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