In a white house decorated with flowers and butterflies in the Carpathian mountains of Romania, Ukrainian children run around. Older kids sit in front of laptops, getting ready to start learning online. Dog barking outside. Mothers prepare breakfast.
Since March, 21 refugee children and 13 adults have been staying at this makeshift shelter, which was used before the war as an activity center, to organize summer camps for young Romanian sick people. cancer.
Ten-year-old girl Daria Oliinyk, aka Dasha, is among them.
As a competitive gymnast, her days are filled with online classes at school, and in the evenings she does 90-minute workouts via Zoom with her trainer, who is currently in Poland. and also fled Ukraine.
Dasha arrived in central Romania – run by the non-profit organization Asociatia Magic – on March 3, with her mother, Natalia, and 5-month-old brother, Sasha.
Her father, Olech, stayed in his native Vinnytsia in central Ukraine, like most Ukrainian men of combat age.
It took the young family three days to drive from Ukraine through Moldova and on to Romania, waiting for hours at congested border crossings and stopping multiple times to ask for directions.
But as soon as they arrived at the center, Dasha asked one of the volunteers for an exercise mat. Suppose the girl wanted to play with her doll, the volunteer gave her a blanket. She turned it down and asked for a “real” exercise mat.
“I cannot delay my sports career because of the war,” Dasha, who has been training since the age of three, told Al Jazeera.
Before Russia invaded Ukraine, Dasha trained three hours a day, six days a week.
But her daily gym visits have been replaced by Zoom sessions with gym youngsters, just three times a week.
Coach Marta Repetatska says the sessions create a sense of continuity.
“I want them to practice a little bit so they can relax and for a while, forget about the situation in Ukraine,” she said.
Children make up half of Ukraine’s refugee population, according to UNICEF.
Experts say continued access to education gives children stability and a sense of belonging at a time of uncertainty.
Natalia gently pushes her daughter to do well in school and maintain a good work ethic.
“I support her, and I help her, and if needed, I insist and set the rules. Because she’s a little person who needs to be educated, and she can’t be left behind,” says Natalia. “I told her that sometimes in life if it’s tough, you can stop for a bit, you can cry a little, and then you’ll move on.”
Dasha’s school in a city south of Kyiv holds four hours of online learning a day, a routine similar to the pandemic but with some fundamental differences.
For example, if the alarm goes off in Vinnytsia, classes will be disrupted because the teacher takes shelter. The school has been converted into a refugee center for people from areas harder affected by the war, such as in northern and eastern Ukraine.
The exercise mats that Dasha used to work out in gym classes have now become a cushion for the refugees.
Distance training was initially a challenge for Dasha. But gradually, other children from the center of Romania joined the Zoom sessions. They were far from divisive, but they encouraged Dasha and helped her feel less alone.
“I really miss my gymnastics colleagues and friends, and I wish we could exercise and work together at the same gym,” says Dasha.
Repetatska describes Dasha as a “very talented” gymnast.
“Now is the time for her to show her best results in gymnastics. Unfortunately, the war changed everything,” she said.
While working out via Zoom provides consistency, it won’t stay in shape for gymnasts, says Repetatska.
She was trying to find new temporary coaches for bodybuilders in the countries they were in.
In Dasha’s case, the Romanian Federation of Rhythmic Gymnastics offered to train her.
She is open to change, but wants to go back to Ukraine, be with her father and continue where she left off.
“I want to achieve my goals and continue on the path I have been on,” she said.