The war in Ukraine has disrupted the lives of thousands of school children. But a school in Rome has made a special effort to allow some to continue learning as they did before the conflict began.
At the school gate, Irina looks at her two children and smiles. "In front of them we have to be strong. We have to do it for them," she says.
Irina, Julia, Anna and Oksana are among 20 mothers whose children, aged six to eight, are attending an elementary class made up entirely of Ukrainian refugees at the Alberto Cadlolo school, part of the Virgilio Institute in central Rome.
Thanks to a project, sponsored by the school and a parents' committee, together with the Ukrainian school association Prestigio, the children are able to continue learning according to the familiar Ukrainian school curriculum.
"We did this [...] certain that this experience will not only help our 'guests', it will also be essential for the personal development of our children, who are already showing integration skills that unfortunately we adults do not always have," the head of the Virgilio Institute, Alessio Santagati, says.
"We are very appreciative of what they are doing for us. They are all very kind," says Irina. She worked as a baker near Kyiv and has twins, Yhor and Kyrylo, and another daughter. She arrived with the children and her husband just after the war began.
"It was my husband who said that we had to leave. He was able to leave as well because Ukrainian law allows this for fathers with three children."
In the morning, the children do online learning with their teachers in Ukraine and then, from 1pm until 4pm, they continue with their Ukrainian teacher Elvira in the Rome classroom.
Online learning is not simple, but there are other problems too. As Irina explains, some of the teachers in Ukraine are no longer free to teach in their own language.
"Julia is from Kherson and is from an area that has been taken by the Russians. They are telling the teachers to teach in Russian, using the Russian curriculum," she says.
Children feel 'pain, nostalgia and anger'
The children hosted by the school come from several areas of Ukraine, from Kyiv to Kherson and Lviv. Tetyana Tarasenko, the head of the Prestigio association, which has been promoting Ukrainian culture in Italy for 15 years and which supports hundreds of children through projects such as this one, says: "In the first three weeks of war alone, over 200 children arrived. In the last two to three weeks the flow has been increasing, especially from areas like Mariupol and Zaporizhia.
"There is a great deal of pain, nostalgia, and anger that you can feel in them and that only a few manage to open up about."
Many of their family members chose to remain in the country. "Not everyone wanted to leave," says Irina, whose parents are still in Ukraine. Despite having left so much behind, she manages to smile at the children, Andrej, Victoria, and lllya, at the school gate.
"In front of them I do not cry," Irina admits. "But then, at home with my husband, I do. I left everything. Everything. I have only my children, my husband, and two suitcases. The future? I have no idea about the future."