'Ukraine and our children have a great future!'

A Caux Refuge interview by Anastasia Slyvinska

Nadia Donos (credit: Sophia Donos)


This article is the third in a series of interviews with people affected by the war in Ukraine who have found temporary shelter at the Caux Refuge.


Before the war in Ukraine broke out, Nadia Donos enjoyed her dream job as a Ukrainian language and literature teacher. Throughout her career she has successfully implemented numerous projects in the education sector.

Even after almost two decades of teaching she continues to educate herself, committed to the life-long learning process of each individual. A graduate of Kyiv-Mohyla Business School and the School of Educational Managers programme, she is co-initiator of a leadership course for children and adolescents, has edited teachers' manuals for the Leader in Me programme and conducted trainings and workshops in her home town Poltava in Central Ukraine.

As a child, Nadia couldnt imagine herself becoming anything else but a school teacher. That dream and her peaceful family life in Poltava were suddenly disrupted by the Russian invasion when she had to flee Ukraine with her 17-year-old daughter while her husband stayed behind.

Now based at the Caux Refuge, Nadia continues to teach children in Ukraine full-time online and will start working as a volunteer teacher for Ukrainian refugee children in Geneva.


Nadia Donos (credit: Sophia Donos)
Nadia during an online lesson at the Villa Maria where the Caux Refuge Project is based (photo: Sophia Donos)


Nadia, under what circumstances did you and your daughter decide to leave your hometown?

Nadia: My daughter and I left Poltava in early March. We realized it had become too dangerous to stay. There were constant air alarms and almost no opportunity to teach and study normally. We spent each night in the basement of the school because it was too scary to stay in the high-rise building where we lived. So in the end we decided to leave… First, we went to Poland and then to Caux in Switzerland.


And how did you get to Caux? Did you already know anybody here?

Nadia: My husband Leonid is an active member of the Initiatives of Change network. He has been to conferences in Caux several times (2017 - 2019) and knows a lot of people here. It is thanks to Initiatives of Change and these friends that my daughter Sophia and I are now here, Of course we are very thankful for all the help and coordination that Initiatives of Change has been providing. Without this, it would be very hard for us.


Do you continue to work online?

Nadia: Yes, I still work full-time, teaching online classes to children in Ukraine.


What is the biggest motivation for you as a teacher during times of war?

Nadia: Its challenging. The children are going through very difficult moments. But those children, their dreams and prospects are my biggest motivation. Now each Ukrainian faces his or her own personal frontline and has to figure out what he or she can do best. As they learn, our children and teachers are waging an important battle for the future of the country. And this future will not be taken away from us by anyone, even by the Russian army. I am convinced that Ukraine and our children have a great future and the whole world will hear about it! So we will not stop! 


View from Villa Maria, 2022 (photo: Anastasia Slyvinska)
View from the Villa Maria in Caux, home of the Caux Refuge project (photo: Anastasia Slyvinska)


Does your daughter Sophia continue her studies online with her teachers back in Poltava? Or is she looking for a place to study here in Switzerland?

Nadia: Sophia is currently studying online with Ukrainian teachers but will start school in Lausanne in about a week. She likes Caux and its picturesque surroundings very much. I only wish it hadn't been under such terrible conditions that she had a chance to come to this beautiful place…


Do you speak about the war with your students and your own daughter?

Nadia: I do not avoid talking about the war with children at all. We discuss the current situation and their experiences. In my opinion, we, as teachers, have the possibility to reduce the tensions and feelings of anxiety, establish trust with our students and empower them. This is very important in such challenging times.


Nadia Donos (credit: Sophia Donos)
Nadia teaching online (photo: Sophia Donos)

It seems teaching is your calling. Have you always wanted to be a teacher?

Nadia: Teacher… This word has always been associated with my childhood dream. I never imagined myself taking another path in life. When I was little I used to pretend I was teacher, putting on my mothers high heels, a shawl on my shoulders, carrying around notebooks and my dad's textbooks, which I snuck out of our old attic. All this was a part of my childhood dream. My "students" were my grandmother and her elderly friends who were frequent guests at our home. I preferred to teach them while my peers were playing with dolls. I remember my mother asking once what to bring back from the city. I replied: 'A red pen! And it has to be a beautiful one! I want to write beautifully in my students' notebooks because I am a teacher!'


So your dream has come true!

Nadia: Absolutely! Right from the beginning it was the obvious choise for me. And my dream has come true: I am a teacher! Despite the circumstances, I am proud of the fact that I can teach and continue learning. And now Im more motivated than ever!


How do you motivate children to study under such difficult circumstances?

Nadia: While everyone was still discussing what environment would motivate children to learn - we have already created it through an online school called DONOschool. I came up with an idea to create such a space after studying at Kyiv-Mohyla Business School. Before the war DONOschool was an educational space in Poltava and since the war broke out, it's fully online. We are a team that create and implement new approaches to modern education and we support Ukraine's European integration and do everything to make education human-oriented.


What are the main objectives and tasks of your school?

Nadia: We prepare children for school and high school students for independent external evaluation tests to help them get admitted to university. We teach Ukrainian language, history and mathematics in groups of up to 6 students. Other than that we teach masterclasses in the development of children's leadership potential and organize consultations with qualified psychologists. Now, more than ever, such online classes, masterclasses and consultations bring help to children, strengthen their self-confidence and help them develop their potential to reach their dreams.


What are your plans for the future?

Nadia: As I have already said, we are all on the frontline, be it as a teacher or a doctor, a cook or an entrepreneur. Besides teaching online I plan to start working as a volunteer in Geneva next week. I am going to teach children in Ukrainian language and literature and I can’t wait to meet my new students!



About the author

Anastasia Slyvinska

Anastasia Slyvinska is a journalist from Kyiv, Ukraine. She has worked as a TV host, a foreign reporter and a manager for media outlets in Ukraine and abroad. Having worked at both Ukrainian and Canadian Parliaments she combines her media expertise with her political sciences background, holding a MA in Political Science. Anastasia has been part of the IofC community since 2014 when she first participated at the conference Just Governance for Human Security. She is currently living in Lausanne, Switzerland.








As our own sources of funding are running out, we need your help to support the Caux Refuge project financially. We need CHF 20,000 to ensure that the group can be hosted until the end of 2022. We will use these funds to finance food aid and other costs related to the group's stay at the Villa Maria in Caux.

We thank you for your support. Please pledge your support here and specify “Caux Refuge” when making your contribution. If you have any proposals and questions, please get in touch with us.



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Please note that the opinions expressed in these articles are those of the interviewees and not do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the interviewer and Initiatives of Change Switzerland.


Photo top: Véronique Sikora

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