Safe, playing, and attending school: A temporary home for 100 Ukrainian children in Western Austria

Child drawing

Update from SOS Children's Villages in Tyrol, Western Austria, where 100 children and young people from Ukraine, together with their caregivers, have found safety and protection.

On 23 March at around 3 p.m., four buses from Ukraine arrived in Tyrol, western Austria. Two drove to the Hermann Gmeiner Academy in Innsbruck, the others directly to the SOS Children's Village in Imst.

Wolfram Brugger, SOS Children's Village director in Innsbruck, recalls: “I was constantly informed about their exact location. We were all excited about their arrival, but at the same time worried. How do they feel after experiencing war? After leaving a familiar environment to set off on a journey to a foreign country? How will they feel meeting strangers whose language they do not understand and looking into an uncertain future?”

“Given all these difficulties, it was all the more important – and simply required – that the children were accompanied and continuously cared for by their trusted caregivers," Brugger says.

Efendi Onay, Head of the BIWAK, a project of SOS Children’s Villages in Tyrol for unaccompanied minor refugees, has taken over the responsibility to care for children and caregivers from Ukraine at the Hermann Gmeiner Academy since day one. He prepared everything diligently. There were colorful balloons and welcome posters in Ukrainian, English and German. Important information was translated into these three languages and interpreters were hired to ensure effective communication (Efendi himself also speaks some Russian).

Upon their arrival, the group from Ukraine was welcomed by Efendi and many other SOS Children’s Villages’ staff members. They recovered from the exhausting journey over a meal. Some of the children, especially the younger ones, soon began playing with the toys, games, and painting kits provided. Finally, everyone was shown their rooms.

In total, 52 children, young people and caregivers were in Innsbruck safe and sound – that was the most important thing.

Arrival at SOS Children’s Villages in Imst

While at the Hermann Gmeiner Academy, the necessary infrastructure was already in place and only some organization was required. The situation in Imst was different, since 50+ children and young people are normally cared for in the SOS Children’s Villages there.

As such, the reception of children and caregivers from Ukraine had to be organized in parallel with the daily work. The building itself required adaptation, and given delays in deliveries, it was a challenge to install a heating system and find enough beds on time. The group from Ukraine had to temporarily be accommodated in a hotel in Imst and could only move to the SOS Children's Village after 10 days, on  April 3rd. "The situation was challenging for everyone," Wolfram Brugger says.

Children eating

"In Imst, the challenges were bigger, both from a logistical and pedagogical perspective, because the number of children in the village has suddenly doubled! Nevertheless, children and caregivers were given safe accommodation and cared for. We tried to help them integrate into the life of the SOS Children’s Village and feel comfortable. A big thank you to all the supporters and helping hands who worked tirelessly to make this happen," adds Brugger, smiling.

All children and young people attend school

All 102 children and adolescents were examined and received care at the hospital in Innsbruck.  After that, all the official requirements for their enrollment in school were fulfilled in close cooperation with responsible authorities. As of today, they all attend school. For the youngest children, a temporary kindergarten has been organized internally by SOS Children’s Villages.

Everyday life and leisure time

It is a huge advantage that both locations in Tyrol have large playgrounds for outdoor activities. Children can ride tricycles, scooters, and bikes, they can play football, run and jump around every day. In Imst, children from Ukraine and Austria enjoy these activities together. They also have separate spaces for games, painting, reading, and making music.

Children playing ping pong

"If you did not know they had fled from a war-torn country, you could think they are just happy children playing," Wolfram Brugger and Efendi Onay agree. "Playing can help children forget difficult things quicker."

There are still many challenges

Wolfram and Efendi are pleased with all the efforts made in Tyrol so far. "The first hurdles are behind us. Together, we were able to organize the reception and implement all the changes quickly. Still, new and often unexpected challenges arise every day. Depending on how long the war lasts, extensive additional support and integration programs may be needed for the medium and long term. It will also be important to address the question of financial support, e.g., for the caregivers from Ukraine."

Language and culture differences, together with differing conditions and experiences in the care sector, require good communication to ensure mutual trust and understanding.

_____________

Learn more about the conflict in Ukraine and how SOS Children's Villages is responding. 

Canadians wishing to support SOS Children's Villages emergency response programs are encouraged to Donate to SOS MAYDAY.