“Instead of computer science, I now teach the alphabet.”

“Instead of computer science, I now teach the alphabet.”

“My name’s Katya, what’s yours?” the teacher asks a group of around twenty women from Ukraine who want to learn basic Czech so they can find a job or carry on their occupation. In ŠKODA’s hometown, one refugee from the war is thus helping her compatriots adjust to life in the Czech Republic.

16. 6. 2022 Škoda World

Ekaterina Azizova fled from a town near Kyiv and came to the Czech Republic, where her parents have lived for years. With support from ŠKODA, she got involved in helping her compatriots, and because she is a teacher and speaks Czech, she helps Czech teachers and runs a Czech language course for refugees.

We meet at Koliba, a former restaurant in the Štěpánka park in Mladá Boleslav, where children and adults from Ukraine are now being taught. Ekaterina Azizova herself graduated with a master’s degree and teaches computer science at home, but she is now using her teaching skills and knowledge of Czech in a completely different way in ŠKODA’s hometown: she helps with interpreting and teaches her compatriots and children the basics of the Czech language. 

Ekaterina Azizova

Although she has had her share of traumatic experiences and fled with her ten-year-old daughter because of the bombing, she is optimistic about the current situation. “I see everything as a challenge and wonder what I can learn from situations. But mostly I am grateful that I can work and don’t have to sit around waiting for help. Even though I teach the alphabet instead of computers,” she smiles.

You speak good Czech. Did you really learn it that quickly?
I already knew some – since I was 15 years old I had come to the Czech Republic every summer to visit my parents who live here. I had considered studying here and I took Czech language courses ten years ago. But I didn’t want to leave Ukraine: I like it there, I also graduated from university there, I met my husband and soon our daughter was born. Now my knowledge of Czech comes in handy. I still make mistakes, but I understand and I’m trying to improve, and especially to help others.

Children are taught here in the morning and adults in the afternoon.

How did you get into teaching Czech?
To get my daughter involved in lessons here, I took advantage of the language courses available here in Mladá Boleslav with the help of a grant from ŠKODA. Unfortunately, it turned out that our children did not understand the teacher, so I offered to help with interpreting. And since there were not enough teachers, I started coming and helping our people to learn the basics of Czech. 

How many people attend the classes?
I have been helping to teach the children together with my Czech friend Tereza since March. There are 50 children from Ukraine in the class, and thanks to Tereza I also learn something new every time. My knowledge of Czech is already sufficient to teach our adults as well. We have a number of specialists among us, nurses, a pharmacist and others, whose qualifications are recognised by the Czech state, but specialisation and work experience are no good if you don’t speak the language.

The lessons take place in the Koliba hotel and restaurant in Mladá Boleslav.

How difficult is the Czech language for people from Ukraine?
Our languages are very different. Pronunciation is difficult for us, many words are completely different, we have more characters in Ukrainian, we don’t use diacritics. We have different genders: the word for tram is masculine in Ukrainian, for example. But that’s not the main problem. I think it’s not important how difficult the language is, the main thing is the will of a person to learn. You have to want to – anyone who really wants to will manage.

Do children find it easier to pick up Czech than adults?
I also have to explain to children why they need to learn Czech. It’s not easy for them and many of them argue that they will soon return home and won’t need Czech. So I tell them that when they learn a new language, they train their brains, it’s like sport. When you do physical activity, your body looks in good shape, and the same goes for mental exercise. I explain to kids and adults that they are doing something for themselves. Most people didn’t want to leave: we’re not here because we’re poor and want to stay, but because a war broke out in our country. We belong in Ukraine, we want to go back there as soon as possible.

Czech and Ukrainian are very different, with pronunciation often being a problem.

Help in the form of a new computer classroom

At the end of April, ŠKODA launched computer courses for people from Ukraine in a recently renovated IT classroom, which was created with financial assistance from the Czech carmaker and is also used by the general public. The courses are organised and paid for by the ŠKODA AUTO Endowment Fund and are taught by specialists from the Koliba Integration and Education Centre, such as specialist teacher Ekaterina Azizova. People on the course will learn not only the basics of Word or Excel, but also how to work with programs in Czech and on a Czech keyboard and other specifics of the local computer environment.

For Ukrainian students it is useful that the lecturer knows both Ukrainian and Czech and is familiar with the local situation. The courses, which have a capacity of about twenty people, are held every week and the demand for them has exceeded expectations, so the course is going to be continued. The lessons are held in the recently renovated computer room at the Secondary Industrial School in Mladá Boleslav. On 30 March, the new IT facilities were inaugurated by the partners of the Koliba IT training centre – in addition to ŠKODA and the ŠKODA AUTO Endowment Fund, these were Czechitas, a non-profit organisation that has been organising IT training courses for the public here since May, the technology company ABB, and Digiteq Automotive, which offered a financial donation for the purchase of computer equipment as well as teaching volunteers.

You have the advantage of being a teacher – what does computer teaching in Ukraine actually look like?
I teach children from second to ninth grade, and I’m also a form teacher in our school. I specialise in computer science. In Ukraine, children are introduced to computers from the second grade, they learn the basics and concepts such as algorithms, objects or commands and the basics of programming in the visual language Scratch. From the third grade onwards, children learn to use Powerpoint and Word. We place great importance on teaching computer science. My daughter is in fourth grade, but she already knows things that aren’t taught here until seventh grade.

As there weren’t enough teachers, Ekaterina started to help her compatriots.

What does your working day here in Mladá Boleslav look like?
At Koliba I teach children in the morning and adults in the afternoon, and I also have to work with my children in Ukraine, because there are still online classes for everyone who can take part. When I come home I have to mark homework, and sometimes I don’t finish until after midnight. There’s a lot of work, but I’m glad I got a job here, if only because it means I don’t have to sit around at home worrying.

What kind of help have you received here?
The help given to people from Ukraine is absolutely great here: everyone around us is doing all they can. Some people have been given accommodation and receive food. The main things we have to sort out are employment and also getting children places in schools and nurseries. ŠKODA is providing a lot of help here in the city, you can see it at every step. Thanks to the company, we have facilities for teaching and we have received school supplies. They’ve also made sure that the children learn about the country that has given them asylum, and it is also valuable for us that the children are provided with lunch. ŠKODA also organised an event called Career Day for Women from Ukraine. Specialists from the recruitment department show us where to look for work, help to draw up a CV in Czech etc.

The Koliba premises are gradually being decorated in distinctive style.

What would you say to your compatriots who fled the war to the Czech Republic?
Don’t be afraid, try to communicate, try to be active and find a job, even if the work is not as qualified as your job back home. And above all, enjoy every day, be happy that we can be safe here with our children. We are extremely grateful for the help we have received here.

ŠKODA help for Ukraine

ŠKODA dispatched twelve trucks to Ukraine with humanitarian aid, donated CZK 10 million to People in Need immediately after the outbreak of the war, donated CZK 1 million to a hospital in Yachiv, and has also devoted considerable effort towards helping Ukrainian refugees in the Czech regions where it has production facilities. The company’s latest contribution is an employee fundraiser in cooperation with the KOVO trade union. The company management doubled this amount to a total of CZK 3.6 million. The Czech carmaker has already released more than CZK 20 million in response to the critical situation in Ukraine.

The ŠKODA AUTO Endowment Fund has also been active, announcing a raft of regional grant programmes. The projects will be used by local authorities and organisations to support the involvement of adults and children in education, language courses, clubs for children or psychological, health and social assistance, for example.

ŠKODA has also taken steps to help its Ukrainian employees and their families live safely in the Czech Republic. Specifically, this includes support with visa processing, accommodation, language courses, healthcare, integration, education, and, wherever possible, finding employment. More than 600 citizens from Ukraine work in the company’s plants in the Czech Republic on a long-term basis.

One example of an immediate response to the needs of refugee families is the company’s support for the learning centre in Mladá Boleslav. Progressing from idea to reality in just three days, the learning centre has been available since the beginning of March to help children and adults with integration and language courses. Such is the interest in the learning centre that within two weeks the capacity has been increased to 600 children and adults, who already have access to 23 classrooms across the city. ŠKODA has contributed financially to the centre’s establishment and operation and expects to continue to do so in the coming months.