Children from Chechnya to Lose school in Poland

Piotr Drabik
6 min readMay 21, 2020


A unique school for children from Chechnya in Eastern Poland will be closed. Local authorities want to open a senior club in the school building. Young Chechens can lose school, where they have the chance for a better start in a foreign country.

Children from Primary School in Berezówka (Facebook)

“Everyone is appalled, even seniors,” says Monika Dziobek, president of the board of the Association “Za Rzeką Krzną”. Since 2012, this organization has been running a primary school in Berezówka — a village 10 kilometres away from the Polish-Belarusian border.

For hundreds of Chechens, this border is the gateway to a better life in Europe. For those who manage to cross it, there will be a stay in one of the centres for foreigners in Poland. One of these centres is in Kolonia Horbów, in Zalesie Municipality. It is the children from this institution who learn at the school in Berezówka.

“At this moment we have 48 students at school and 24 children in kindergarten,” says Barbara Protasiewicz, director of the Berezówka School. However, after the coronavirus pandemic, children won’t be able to return to this school.

The reason is the decision of the local authorities to not extend from September this year the contract for the lease of building for the needs of the school. “The decision to launch a senior club in the school building is upheld and was made responsibly by councilors,” says Tomasz Szewczyk, deputy village mayor of the Zalesie Municipality.

Escape from domestic violence

The decision to create a senior club in the school building was made at the beginning of March this year was made by joint committees of the Zalesie Commune Council. The principal of the school cannot appeal against it. “In a small school in Berezówka, only 13 students are Polish children. Recently, parents took 25 children from this school and transferred to our municipal primary school in Zalesie. Bigger and better equipped,” says Szewczyk.

The deputy village mayor of the Zalesie Municipality explains that the new seniors club is dictated by the demographic situation — almost a quarter of the commune’s inhabitants are elderly. In addition, the building in Berezówka — in the opinion of local officials — is best suited for the new institution. The school principal and Association “Za Rzeką Krzną” is surprised by the persistence of the local authorities. All the more so because there are about 18 village club rooms where senior classes can take place.

Location of School in Berezówka, Centre for Foreigners, Zalesie community and Brest.

To save the school, its authorities proposed to local officials to combine the two institutions. One does not exclude the other. Quite the opposite — it gives a wider range of functioning of both units. Children who have grandparents far abroad would have contact with “surrogate” grandparents. The same for seniors who could take care of children. “I wonder why the municipality is so determined. This is incomprehensible to me”, says Monika Dziobek.

A petition in defense of the school signed up a least 100 seniors from two towns.

In the last years, the school in Berezówka has developed a curriculum focused on children of foreigners who have had to completely change their lives. It is hard to find in Poland a similar primary school focusing on foreigners. But why are Chechens trying to reach Poland?

“First of all, many women run away from domestic violence. In Chechnya and widely in the North Caucasus children do not belong to a woman, but her husband or husband’s family. If the husband is a sadist, humiliates and beats, then the woman has two options: run away or endure it. In Chechnya there is no blue line, you can’t go to a policeman with this case. You can’t even tell your brothers because they’ll take the children. It’s a completely different culture,” says Marina Hulia, a social activist helping refugees staying at the train station in Brest in Belarus.

Other Chechens flee to Europe to avoid being forced to fight in Ukraine and Syria. Parents of sick children are also running away, hoping for better care in Europe.

There are currently 102 people staying in the Centre for Foreigners Kolonia Horbów, mostly from Chechnya. One of them is Maina Multsagova — mother of seven children. For almost three years, they have been waiting for permanent residence in Poland. All eight live in a two-room flat. Three daughters and two sons of Maina have attended school in Berezówka so far.

Children during lessons in Primary School in Berezówka (Facebook)

I wanted them to go to this school further. There are very good teachers, who devote more time to students in small classrooms. The kids don’t want to go to another school. I don’t know what to do about it — Maina Multsagova

Maina has no contact with her husband, who stayed in Chechnya. She does not even know if he is alive. First, with the children, she went to Moscow, and from there to Brest. For five and a half months, the family camped at the station, and then rented a dingy apartment in Brest. Maina earned rent by selling handmade toys. A woman with seven children managed to cross the border only after a dozen or so attempts, with the help of Marina Hulia. “We are afraid to return to Chechnya, because they may arrest my eldest son Ibrahim there. I am very afraid for his life,” she says.

According to International and Polish law, any foreigner who asks for international protection at the border — for example granting refugee status — should be allowed to enter the country. “It was like that before. Unfortunately, Polish border guards are currently returning their families to Belarus once, twice, sixteen, twenty times and so on. This is simply breaking the law. These people are hoping that they will finally smile at them,” says Marina Hulia.

Officials: foreigners must assimilate

For the last few years, the primary school in Berezówka was an opportunity for children from a nearby centre to get an education in conditions suitable for them. “For us, the most important thing is for the child to know and understand Polish and be able to acquire knowledge and continue education at subsequent levels,” says the principal of the school.

Primary School in Berezówka (Google Maps)

Some of the children did not even speak Russian at all, only Chechen. That’s why with the children during the lessons there were guardians who helped them communicate with the teachers. Another problem arose with the closure of schools due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many students didn’t have a computer equipment and speed internet connection to take part in online lessons. Laptops and other computer equipment for students have collected thanks to donors and help from the Polish Office for Foreigners (UdSC).

The contract for the lease of the building for the school ends on 31 August 2020, the last day of vacation. So far, the Association “Za Rzeką Krzną” has not managed to find another building adapted to the needs of the school — all the more when taking into account sanitary restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. The local authorities ensure that all students from Berezówka will have a place in other schools — mainly in Zalesie.

Foreigners are to assimilate here — learn Polish culture and learn to live in Polish society — Tomasz Szweczyk

According to the deputy of the village mayor, children from the Kolonia Horbów centre will cope much better in larger classrooms, where most of the students are Polish.

“Children will be thrown into a completely different community. I anticipate many adaptation problems,” says Barbara Protasiewicz. Earlier, parents of children from the centre were expressing that they did not want to send their children to another institution. “Children of foreigners have gone through a great and risky journey, literally changing the world. Nobody takes this into account, nobody listens to parents from the centre,” says Monika Dziobek.

“We need to clone such a school like in Berezówka and show Polish teachers how to create a place full of love and understanding of terrible peripheries. Chechen children from the school in Berezówka speak Polish much better than those taught in big schools,” says Marina Hulia.

Update June 3rd 2020: Primary school in Berezówka will be able to operate until June 2021. It was decided by the the Zalesie Municipality. The reason is the delay in submitting applications for funding for a new senior’s home. Students will be able to start a new school year from September 2020 in the school building.



Piotr Drabik

Polish journalist worked in Radio ZET. Focused on Politics and Foreign relations. Jagiellonian University alumn and now studying in University of Warsaw.