Newberry Helps Ukrainian Refugees Find Work in Poland
by Jay Salter '19 | External Communications Coordinator - February 24, 2023
NEWBERRY — It has been one year to the day since Russia began its large-scale invasion of Ukraine. As the conflict persists longer than anticipated, Lutheran churches in neighboring Poland are helping refugees find meaningful work to support their families while displaced.
Atop the perils of war, however, Ukrainian refugees must overcome yet another obstacle — the language barrier. The good news is, education efforts are finding support nearly 5,000 miles away, from members of the Newberry College community.
“Eight months into the war in Ukraine, the needs of the refugee and host communities in Poland are shifting. What initially was primarily a cash-based response on behalf of the LWF will now be expanded into the areas of protection and social cohesion, as well as education,” the Lutheran World Federation reported in October.
The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland’s parish in Radom — a city of about 230,000 about 65 miles south of the capital, Warsaw — is one of a handful of Lutheran churches educating adult refugees for life in Poland, however temporary it may be. Newberry College sophomore Kornelia Rudkowska calls this parish home. Her father, Wojciech, is its pastor, and her mother, Katarzyna — one of the first nine Lutheran women to be ordained in Poland — is the local program’s director.
“Previous experience in working with refugees teaches us that the most urgent need is for them to quickly master the language of the country in which they found shelter,” said Kornelia, adding that about 9,000 Ukrainian refugees have registered in Radom so far. “Refugees, despite the fact that they often have high professional qualifications, do not find work. The biggest barrier is poor knowledge of the Polish language.”
The program, titled “I Overcome Barriers,” started twice-weekly Polish classes on Jan. 23. The 20-week course is taught in line with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, or CEFR. Fortunately, Polish and Ukrainian are similar enough that refugees are not “starting from scratch” linguistically.
The program currently has 33 students, mostly women, divided among three groups taught by member Halina Twardosz-Bobryk (right). “The smaller the group, the more effective it is to learn a foreign language,” said Rudkowska. “Two have even signed up for my mum’s church choir.”
The project is supported by the Lutheran World Federation and contributions from member churches and institutions, including Newberry College. “Campus Ministry raised about $6,700 from private donations to support refugees in Radom,” said Campus Pastor David Coffman ’97. Included in the total is $1,000 generously given by the Newberry Opera House, he added. The funds came from proceeds of last month’s visit by the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine.
The demand for these language courses has only increased. Donations collected and sent through Newberry College have directly allowed the Radom program to launch its third class, Rudkowska said.
Over 1.4 million Ukrainian refugees have registered to stay in Poland, far more than any other country. According to the Polish Family and Social Policy Ministry, around 900,000 Ukrainians have found employment in the country since the invasion began.
Top: One of the Polish classes at the Evangelical-Augsburg Church in Radom.