New Ukrainian students in Edmonton look forward to a normal school year

The Edmonton Catholic School Board is welcoming 237 Ukrainian students, the majority of whom are registering in schools offering a Ukrainian bilingual program. 

'My children want school because in Ukraine they not want to go to school,' mom says

A woman sits on a couch, with one arm around a young boy in her lap and the other arm around a young girl sitting beside her.
Daria Timokhova holds her son Dmytro, 5, and daughter Alisa, 9, in their Edmonton home on Tuesday. (Dennis Kovtun/ CBC )

Among the thousands of children heading back to Edmonton schools this fall are students from Ukraine, who will be learning in Canada for the first time after fleeing war in their home country.

Nine-year-old Alisa Timokhova and her five-year-old brother Dmytro are going to St. Martin Catholic Elementary School in south Edmonton — Alisa in Grade 4 and Dmytro in kindergarten.

Their mother, Daria Timokhova, said the children are really excited for their upcoming school year. The family arrived in Edmonton in late May without their father, who is fighting against Russians in Ukraine.

"My children want school because in Ukraine they not want to go to school," said Timokhova, who is learning English.

On top of challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, which changed learning for students around the world, Ukrainian students have also been dealing with war after Russia invaded the country in February.

"For children this is very hard," Timokhova said.

She said that while they were still in Ukraine, Dmytro had a kindergarten teacher who worked with him. But she worried for Alisa, who spent days alone at home, attending classes online.

Timokhova said she is very happy that her daughter will finally go to a real school.

St. Martin offers a Ukrainian bilingual program for students in kindergarten through Grade 6.

Today marks the start of the school year for Edmonton Catholic Schools. Among the cohort will be hundreds of students who have left war-ravaged Ukraine with their families. Edmonton AM producer Dennis Kovtun had a chance to speak with one of these families in Edmonton.

Canada has welcomed more than 77,000 Ukrainians between January and Aug. 21. 

The Edmonton Catholic School Board is welcoming 237 Ukrainian students into their schools.

Sarah Fedoration, languages manager for the board, said the majority of those students are registering in schools that have the Ukrainian bilingual program.

The school board has offered the bilingual program for more than 20 years, Fedoration said.

"It seems like a natural fit for them," Fedoration told CBC's Edmonton AM on Monday. 

Besides St. Martin, most Ukrainian students are going to St. Matthew elementary, St. Brendan elementary/junior high and Austin O'Brien High School.

Thousands of kids from Edmonton Catholic Schools kick off a brand-new school year today, and the district will be welcoming new students from Ukraine. For a look at how schools are adapting to the new arrivals, we're joined by Sarah Fedoration. She's a languages manager from Edmonton Catholic.

No stranger to newcomers, even those fleeing war, the board's teachers understand the trauma, sense of uncertainty and pressures to adjust to a new normal that these students experience, Fedoration said.

That's why they are provided with structure and support right away.

"That really creates ease," she said. "And our teachers, of course, are so good at welcoming students and building relationships."

She said these relationships help the teachers assess individual needs for students down the road. 

Fedoration said the school started preparing for the Ukrainian students right after the war broke out. "We knew that we would be expecting students," she said.

The teachers and staff have gone through professional learning around trauma associated with war and are making adjustments to their classes to make sure students have what they need to have a good start to the school year, she said. 

Leduc-based Black Gold School Division is welcoming 13 Ukrainian students into their schools.

St. Albert Public Schools confirmed they have 30 students from Ukraine, although a spokesperson said they are expecting more in the coming days.

Edmonton Public Schools could not provide the number of Ukrainian students entering schools at the time of publication.


Kashmala Fida Mohatarem is a reporter and associate producer with CBC Edmonton.

With files from Dennis Kovtun