Jill Biden meets with Ukrainian refugee mothers and teachers in Romania

Sitting in a classroom in Bucharest, the Romanian capital, US First Lady Jill Biden met with a group of Ukrainian refugee mothers and educators on Saturday, praising the women for their strength and resilience. Svitlana Salamatova and Anna Sushko, both founders of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) focusing on women’s issues and education, fled the Ukrainian capital Kyiv shortly after Russia invaded the country on February 24.

Another of the women, Anastasiia Konovalova, left her home in Odessa with her infant son. Svitlana Gollyak and her 8-year-old daughter hid in a basement in the bombed-out city of Kharkiv before heading west into neighboring Romania. Despite their ordeal, the women quickly sought ways to use their skills to help other refugees, setting up a kindergarten and several classrooms for Ukrainian children in Bucharest with the help of local NGOs, volunteers and officials.

“I crossed the border with my three-year-old son and all I thought about was how to save my child from a town that was bombed,” Konovalova told Biden, a teacher herself. “Thank God the Romanian people were here. I think even the Romanians didn’t expect them to be so wonderful, because you don’t expect that from people,” Konovalova said.

Biden, who teaches English and writing at a community college in Virginia, is touring Romania and Slovakia to meet with U.S. military personnel deployed in the countries and refugees. Nearly 910,000 Ukrainians have fled to Romania since Russia launched its invasion, with charities, local authorities and government agencies working alongside thousands of volunteers to provide food, shelter and transport.

While many have already traveled further, around 80,000 remain in Romania, mostly women with young children. “It’s only now that I understand how important an educational space, and not just an education, is,” Salamatova said. “Our women have time to organize their lives.”

Konovalova said she has 900 children on waiting lists for their Ukrainian classrooms. “They don’t want to leave this country because they want to stay close to the border and as soon as it’s safe we’ll go back… after making a good friend (Romania),” he said. she adds.

President Joe Biden’s wife was accompanied by Romanian first lady Carmen Iohannis, who is also a teacher. “I think mothers will do anything for their children,” Biden told Ukrainian Women. “I think you are incredibly strong and resilient.”

The first ladies also met Ukrainian and Romanian children who drew their handprints on paper printed in the colors of their countries’ respective flags. “The world is so open now that we have no borders for our hearts,” Sushko said.

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

Helen D. Jessen