DILIJAN, Armenia – Young people from Ukraine and Russia are demonstrating to the world that hope is not lost. They’re setting an inspiring example of unity and friendship on neutral ground.
Millions of Ukrainian refugees have fled to Europe while Russians are also seeking safety in former Soviet states like Georgia. In Armenia, however, refugees from both countries have found a safe haven.
At a private high school called the International School of Armenia, students from both sides of the conflict are setting an example for both their countries about the power of empathy.
Head of College Gabriel Abad Fernández said, “We have students from Ukraine, have students from Russia, we have students from Moldova. All of them feel the conflict. So we supported them primarily to take care of their well-being. And obviously worried about their families and friends back home. But also we use our students as learning resources. So when you study history or global politics, you’re not thinking of our semi-serious endeavors and whether you’re actually listening directly to those who were being affected by conflict or are being affected by conflict now.”
Ukrainian Student Natasha said, “I was like, ‘Why, in the 21st century the war can start?’ It’s like, ‘Why? Why people would do this?’ And so the next day after I was saying that, the war… I, like heard the explosions and everything started.”
Russian Student Katarina said, “Everyone was shocked and the family, our family, like were got together and we started discussing what should we do, should we leave now? Should we wait ’til the end of the school year? …And we decided we should move as soon as possible first, because at the time no one knew like what’s going to happen next.”
“So I would say it was really nice to finally they get into a place where you can express yourself freely,” one student said. “So it feels kind of restricting to have to worry all the time of what you say, how you express yourself to, like, keep track of your social media.”
Right now, this campus hosts about 220 students from more than 80 different countries, and they’re in the middle of taking their exams. But what they’re telling me is that the best part of this experience is what happens outside the classroom.
Ukrainian student Anna said, “I find kind of similarities with us, like, we look at some things from the same perspective, but from different experience. So, of course, I had some conversations, like some deep sometimes would be not really pleasant conversations with people about the topic, but it’s still like, it doesn’t mean that like the, war, is the only topic we talk about.”
The 18-year-old Ukrainian worried she might be confronted by those who supported the war against her country. Instead, she learned a bigger lesson.
Anna said, “Good Russians do exist. In this world, especially in this school, a lot of them.”
The school’s leaders believe empathy is even more valuable than mere academics.
Gabriel Abad Fernández explained, “We believe that if we want the world to be peaceful and sustainable, we need to know and understand each other.”