Each Sunday, around 100 children gather at a private school in Bee Cave to attend the Ukrainian School of Austin—a free program dedicated to helping Ukrainian children preserve their language and culture.

Ukrainian School of Austin has served as a safe haven for many children to celebrate their heritage as more families flee Ukraine amidst an ongoing war with Russia, said Natalya Gavryshko, the school’s co-founder and director.

The overview

Ukrainian School of Austin provides classes and programming for children and teenagers at the Trinity Episcopal School of Austin on three Sundays each month.

Students ages 2-16 rotate between classes on Ukrainian language, history, art, singing and theater while older students attend computer programming classes and will begin learning about robotics this summer, Gavryshko said. The school holds traditional holiday celebrations and provides students with a library of Ukrainian books.

All classes are taught in the Ukrainian language by a handful of local volunteers who share their skill sets or professions, she said.

The backstory

Gavryshko began teaching the Ukrainian language to a small group of children at the Cedar Park Library after moving to the area in 2018. Unlike her family’s experience amongst a large Ukrainian community in New York, Gavryshko said she could not find any Ukrainian schools for her children to attend in Austin.

“There was no other option [than] to start Ukrainian School,” she said.

In 2022, Gavryshko and co-founder Kate Voinova opened Ukrainian School of Austin out of Trinity Episcopal School of Austin to begin serving more refugee children. The Austin area saw an influx of Ukrainian families moving to the area following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she said. A majority of the families served by the school reside in the Leander and Cedar Park area, she said.

“I always felt that it’s a safe place for kids where they can feel at home,” Gavryshko said. “Right now, this is the only school that exists for Ukrainian kids in Austin.”

The impact

Ukrainian School of Austin serves as an important space for children who may struggle to adjust to life in a new country without friends or understanding of the English language, Gavryshko said. The classes allow children to communicate with their families and connect with their heritage, and provide a level of support that is oftentimes not available through local school districts, she said.

Despite being occupied by foreign forces, Ukraine is carried on through its culture and language, making it crucial for Ukrainian children to continue their language and learning, Gavryshko said.

“Ukrainian language and culture—the Soviet Union was trying to erase it for decades, and if there is no culture and there is no language, I think that [the] country will not exist,” she said.

Get involved

Ukrainian School of Austin accepts donations, including school supplies and monetary contributions. The school also accepts volunteers who can speak the Ukrainian language to teach classes.

ATX Ukrainians, Gavryshko’s nonprofit overseeing the school, connects Ukrainian families to resources such as furniture and clothing through the Assistance League of Austin.