Specifically, she was involved in creating a unique Ukrainian school in Bern, the Youth League, Ukrainian community centers in various cantonments, and the "Integration of Wisdom" project to support the elderly. This is just a part of Svitlana's activities within the USB Association.
One of the missions of DestiNation.ua is to highlight the successful experience of Ukrainian integration in Switzerland and provide informational support on this path. Therefore, we spoke with Svitlana about her adaptation in Switzerland and the impressive work of the USB Association.
Please tell us about your activities in Ukraine and how you integrated into Switzerland. Your experience is valuable, as it's an example of rapid adaptation, considering all your activities here.
When I arrived in Switzerland after the start of the war, I had a somewhat easier time than others. In Ukraine, when we developed the technology for creating a developmental educational environment, we did so based on the Swiss education system. My background is in history and law, so I focused on the specifics of the Confederate system from a management and legal perspective. I knew that Swiss education had a common standard and framework, but each educational institution had an individual approach.
Regarding my activities in Ukraine, I had my own school for 15 years. I can proudly say that, by Ukrainian standards, I'm a mother of four – I have four children. So, I'm both a theorist and a practitioner. As I used to say, I have four children and 350 beloved ones. Unfortunately, I had to deal with serious raiding and four years of legal battles. Ultimately, I had to give up the rights to the school. Unfortunately, after I left, the school only survived for a year, despite leaving it with a staff of 70 and 350 students.
However, I retained knowledge, experience, desire, skills, and abilities to work, so I was involved in cultural and educational projects for three years. Some of them are still ongoing as much as possible in current conditions.
In these projects, the focus was on our historical identity with the Swiss and the peculiarities that permeate Ukrainian cultural and social life, which provided us, Ukrainians, with exceptional stability. We are resilient despite everything because we have traditions of initiative in certain social, age, and family statuses. This is very similar to how the Swiss do things. So, even from a historical perspective, we share a lot of similar formats.
When I came to Switzerland, I started to adapt very actively without language and understanding of what to do, probably like most Ukrainian women. Initially, I realized that I could help our people and hold integration meetings. They covered various topics, both basic domestic issues and legal and psychological aspects. Regarding the latter, I incorporated various upbringing and stimulation systems into the educational space during my time as the director of my own school. I underwent extensive training in psychology from various systems. I have certificates as a working psychotherapist. So, I understand what I'm doing. Personally, I prefer the positive psychotherapy of Peseshkian; I have a certificate from his institute. I have also studied psychosomatic disorders quite well, as I have worked with children for a long time. I continue to learn even now because there are interesting approaches I want to explore. For example, things like hypnocoaching work well with post-traumatic stress disorder. It combines coaching approaches and hypnosis, which allows for a concise and rapid exit from PTSD and encourages individuals to seek resources.
I quickly joined the USB Association. The head of its board is Olena Krylova, who has lived in Switzerland for over 30 years and has extensive professional experience. Olena is involved in international consulting in the field of social issues. She has worked extensively with missions of the Red Cross and various social programs. Her level of authority is so high that, for example, this year, we won a tender – we were entrusted with conducting a sociological study among Ukrainians. The United Nations Office for Migration conducted it in three European capitals to determine the strategies and trends of Ukrainians in Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, and Bern were involved. We were entrusted with the Bern study, which we conducted, and we have very clear information about it. I should note that Switzerland relies primarily on objective statistics, analysis, collegial governance, balanced opinions, and democracy.
What does the association do?
The USB Association is a quite active organization with several areas of focus. I head the direction of educational, cultural, and social projects, activities, and initiatives. One of the interesting initiatives that we've implemented is the Ukrainian school in Bern.
For the children, we have an adapted curriculum where they learn the Ukrainian language, mathematics, writing, and counting. But the most important aspect is that through project-based learning—biology, geography, physics, economics—they gain practical skills essential for children in Switzerland.
What kind of skills are these?
Making mistakes, asking for support, communicating, and expressing their opinions while understanding others may have different views. Expanding their emotional spectrum, using their imagination to create something extraordinary, asking questions... There's a lot to it. Children go through a stage of emotional adaptation where they start understanding that emotions are normal and can be expressed. They learn that it's okay to do what they like while respecting the boundaries of others. So, there are many interesting aspects to our school. Besides achieving great results with the children, another important factor for me is that Swiss donors are very satisfied. They approved our project initially, provided initial funding, and then conducted interim checks, which is common in Switzerland. In the end, they mentioned they were very pleased that a beautiful garden had grown from the tiny seeds they provided.
Apart from the school, we also work with teenagers and have a women's group for emotional harmony and stability.
Is this what you've accomplished in just half a year?
Yes. But apart from that, we've also helped specific communities and people in the conflict zone. We collected funds, organized charity concerts various meetings, and implemented several projects. There is information about this on our website.
Furthermore, we have signed a memorandum with the Association of Ukrainian Entrepreneurs, an independent alternative to our state business support and management coordination system. We aim to develop this direction as well, but we need a strong coordinator, which we are currently searching for.
Do you have any projects for young people?
We have a Youth League that we support. Currently, our youth is engaged in an important initiative – creating Ukrainian-language audio guides for museums in Bern. Students find this practice very interesting. We currently have a project with the Bern Museum of Communication, and there are preliminary agreements with the Paul Klee Museum. We also really want to create an audio guide for the Bern Munster (cathedral). This work doesn't require much funding; we can do it simply and quickly. Our initiative is very relevant because when we take children to museums, we notice no audio guides in our language. When I visited the Munster, it was unpleasant for me; there was a short audio guide in Russian but none in Ukrainian. I believe that through such youth initiatives, we can achieve much more than by involving administrative resources. We've received a letter stating that there is such a project at the embassy, but we understand it might take a very long time to implement. So, it's better if we do it ourselves. We have a strong desire, and we believe we can quickly fulfill this need. For us, it's about ideals and quality rather than our ambitions. It's just a very important matter for all of us.
In addition, our Youth League is currently working with the Red Cross because they have several interesting youth programs. We've already conducted the first basic training for Ukrainian youth. Some have already received a certificate for looking after children of a certain age – teenagers aged 15-17 can take care of children aged 6 to 12, take them to the cinema or the park, organize walks, and even feed them. Some people trust them to feed the child, as stated in their certificate. This is an opportunity for students and teenagers to earn, be aware, and be stable.
In addition, our Youth League is working with the youth of Bern to develop a project called "How to Bern?" It's an exciting initiative, and young people have already actively embraced it. The idea is that the Swiss are creating a channel to provide information about the activities one can participate in today. For example, swimming in the Aare River. Our youth are eager to do such activities but need someone to show them how.
The channel can feature various suggestions, like hiking to the Gurten mountain or visiting local fairs – a wide range of experiences. So, this is an informational support project. Gradually, it will grow like a snowball, and young people will communicate and adapt.
Here, we have very active and interesting young individuals. At the same time, it's challenging for our side because they are not used to youth being so actively engaged. We understand the realities of Ukraine and the concerns of parents.
Another direction of youth activity is our collaboration with the Red Cross, as they offer several interesting youth programs. We have already conducted the first basic training for Ukrainian youth. Some have already received certificates for caring for children of a certain age – teenagers aged 15-17 can look after children from 6 to 12, go to the cinema in the park, organize walks, and even feed the children. Some are trusted to do so, as specified in their certificate. In any case, this allows students and teenagers to earn, be aware, and be stable.
You've also organized centers for Ukrainians in different places. Please tell us about that.
It was a completely new experience for me – creating centers for Ukrainians, organized according to the Swiss principle of self-organization. It all began with my integration meetings, which led to the emergence of a larger community. Initially, everything was chaotic – we made arrangements, were given premises, and gathered people. At present, within the USB, we've developed a system that allows the creation of Ukrainian centers in different locations. Currently, we already have three of them. We assist them in legal registration. They can cooperate with local Gemeinde (community council) branches as soon as this is done. We push them, and then they start moving on their own. We have a very good community in the city of Spiez, in Burgdorf, and now a package (the community already exists there) is forming in Thun. This initiative is like the child we've given birth to, and it's already starting to work.
Actually, centers often need quite ordinary things. For example, how to raise money or request subsidies. There are adaptation programs in many cities, but Ukrainians often struggle with them due to language and mental-administrative barriers. So, we create this small space, and it starts moving independently. And that's very good. Depending on the city, each of these centers has its own needs and programs.
What kind of programs can they be?
For example, in Thun, there's a strong need for the adaptation of elderly people. We named this program "Integration of the Wise." Our elderly people have already stabilized here and want integration, but they still have concerns. But we understand that if they sit at home, they'll degrade. So, something needs to be done.
In Switzerland, there are many activities around churches. However, our elderly people, who come from the Soviet generation, are often afraid to attend church services. This is partly due to their Ukrainian experience when some religious organizations did not do a very good job. And the fact that it's not Orthodox Christianity also deters some. So, there are many barriers.
We realized that the "Integration of the Wise" program is necessary. Social services and communities are very interested in our initiative and willing to provide premises and help. We have interested them with the argument that if we don't engage these elderly people in something useful, they will end up in hospitals, which is more costly for the state. Swiss people are always willing to help if an initiative is presented to them in a way they can understand.
What's also interesting is that this becomes a joint activity for grandparents, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Because parents, mostly mothers, are busy, they work and deal with many issues, they run around. But grandparents and grandchildren discover each other anew, step beyond the kitchen, where the grandmother just wants to feed them and explore the world together.
So, we have a very wide path that we can follow. There is so much commonality in our goals, realized projects, and dreams. This is very inspiring.