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Ukrainian war refugee Tetiana: 'I really love the Estonian language'

Tetiana Shcherbak, who is an engineer by training, arrived in Estonia after fleeing the war in her native Ukraine. Once she got here, she became a teacher for children with special needs. Now Tetiana is also teaching the Estonian language to her fellow Ukrainians.

Tetiana arrived in Estonia from Ukraine a year and a half ago along with her mother, husband and their two children, a six-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter. "We escaped from an occupied city. My family is from Kupiansk," Tetiana explained.

At the end of March last year, the family left their home and embarked on a long and dangerous journey. They travelled through Russia by car, with no sleep for three days. The situation was made all the more complicated for them simply because they are Ukrainians.

"Why? [Things] are so nice and good there. Why did you come?" Tetiana said people had asked her. Today, Tetiana's hometown remains extremely dangerous, with the front line close by.

Once she arrived in Tallinn, Tetiana went straight to work. "My first job was in a big laundromat. It was hard work. My working day lasted 12 hours. I worked there for five months, but I later had the opportunity to come to work at the Tondi School in Tallinn," said Tetiana.

Even though Tetiana herself has a Master's degree in railway engineering and had never previously worked at a school for children with special needs, she really enjoys working with children.

The Tallinn Tondi School is one of the largest schools in Estonia for children with special needs.

Teaching at the school is based on a simplified curriculum, adapted to the child's specific needs. Tetiana began working there as a teaching assistant. She now feels that the children she works with are like her own and comes to work every day with a feeling of joy.

"She had no previous contact with children or young people with special needs. She has learned all that in a short time here. She is the kind of person who notices things, asks questions, learns and then draws her own conclusions," said Maris Tapner, a teacher at Tallinn Tondi School.

Tetiana Shcherbak Autor/allikas: ERR

"When Tetiana came to work for us, she had been living in Estonia for less than half a year. To my surprise, she could already understand simple Estonian sentences and speak (Estonian) herself," Tapner said.

Linnu Mae, an educationa methodology specialist and speech therapist at Tallinn Tondi School, told ETV show "Ringvaade," that whenever a Russian-speaking colleague tries to speak to her in Russian, Tetiana asks her to speak Estonian. "Estonian is difficult, but I want to learn," Tetiana said.

Tetiana says the children who study at Tallinn Tondi School are not difficult, but wonderful to work with. In her view, what makes them wonderful is that they enjoy life. "That's the most important thing," she said.

Tetiana has now become so interested in special education that has a desire to study the subject academically. This summer, she applied to do just that at Tallinn University, but unfortunately was unsuccessful on that occasion. However, she refuses to give up. Tetiana is now taking some microcredit courses and intends to apply again next year.

On top of that, over the last few months, Tetiana has also been teaching Estonian to her fellow refugees from Ukraine. "I have eight students and so this is such a great opportunity," Tetiana said. To teach the language, Tetiana uses her own methodology, which she has picked up while living in Estonia.

"I really love Estonian and I want my students to love it too. If you love it, you can do it," Tetiana said.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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