OVER 30 years since Spain first allowed women to join its Armed Forces, a female soldier has been promoted to General for the first time in the country's history. Patricia Ortega, 56, from Madrid, was due to have...
Super-student Lia: War refugee who could not speak Spanish
By thinkSPAIN Team Sun, Jul 7, 2019
WINNING a prize for achieving the best results in your school year is certainly something to show off about. And Lia, who lives in Sevilla, has every reason to feel proud of the award she was given this week at the city's Torreblanca high school.
Now imagine that at the start of the school year, you didn't even speak the language of the country where you went to class – not one word. That makes your achievement outstanding.
And once you add on the fact that Lia was an asylum-seeker until a month before class started, a refugee who had fled her war-torn home country almost empty-handed, it suddenly makes everything you thought was hard-won in your life appear insignificant in comparison.
Lia Motrechko (first picture), from Ukraine, was 12 when the Crimean Peninsula where she lived was annexed to Russia, and her family opted to leave immediately, setting up home in the south-east of the country.
The next four years were 'very happy', she said, but when 'Russia continued to advance' and the war spread to eastern Ukraine, her parents decided they, Lia and Lia's little brother needed to get out fast.
“It's hard living in a refugee centre”
“I was frightened, because I'd never seen tanks or the Army until that moment – I was very young and didn't understand a thing,” Lia said of her family's initial flight from Crimea.
But the move to Spain was even harder, she reveals.
“It's especially difficult for children. You have to leave your country, your life and your friends, and move to a place where you have nothing, to start again from zero.
“After everything, I feel much stronger than before, because I suffered so many things, like the occupation of my city, constantly moving and living in different places.”
The family was placed in an asylum seeker's internment centre in Gran Canaria at first. In most countries, until a person is granted official refugee status, he or she is not allowed to leave the centre complex, and although they are provided with food and lodgings, they only receive a small cash allowance towards personal expenses – in the UK, this is around £35 (about €40) a week.
After two months in the enclosed compound, the family was moved to the Torreblanca neighbourhood of Sevilla, where they have been since December 2018.
Lia used all that time to study hard and learn Spanish, of which she did not speak a single word until her arrival in the country.
“It's very hard living in a refugee centre, but I'm so grateful to Spain for the help it offers people who have to flee their countries,” Lia says.
“My time in the centre helped me learn to appreciate everything I'd had before and everything I've got now.”
'Companionship' and 'help' from school community
“The hardest moment was my first day at school. It was the first time I'd been to school in Spain and there was so much I didn't understand about the work, and I couldn't understand my classmates when they spoke.
“But within two weeks I was starting to speak Spanish, because I made sure I read a lot, and I was beginning to be able to communicate with my teachers and the other pupils.”
Lia is 17, so she would have been in the lower sixth form back in Ukraine, but due to the language barrier she was placed in the fourth form at Torreblanca high school.
Here, she was pleasantly surprised by the 'sense of companionship' – she is one of a number of teenage refugees who go to this school, and they all receive 'a lot of help' to enable them to integrate.
Lia feels 'very comfortable' in Spain, and says she now leads a life 'very similar' to that which she had in Ukraine before the conflict (second picture) broke out.
She is now starting to look to the future, having spent years of being unable to think of life beyond the next day, and says she wants to study international relations in a university in Spain and then complete her education in the USA to enable her to become a diplomat.
“I want to help other people, change things, and improve the situation in Ukraine,” Lia says.
Her parents and brother are still learning Spanish, but Lia's meteoric progress and her Best Student award means she has received a flood of offers of places from different schools and colleges for when she finishes her ESO, Spain's answer to GCSEs.
She has decided to take up the place offered by the San Francisco de Paula International School in Sevilla, and study an international version of the Bachillerato, Spain's A-level equivalent, which would be valid for entering university anywhere in the world.
“I think it'll all go very well – maybe even better than before,” she admits.
Lia has also been given a scholarship from the FASE and Procter&Gamble Foundation – the 'You Go Girl' grant, provided to young women who have made outstanding achievements against the odds.
And she has some advice and encouragement for other children and teenagers forced into an asylum seeker's lifestyle: “Don't be afraid. Your classmates and teachers will help you and support you in everything. Be strong and never give up.”
Lia's incredible personal victory has certainly not gone to her head, although she definitely deserves the privilege of being able to blow her own trumpet.
“I don't think I'm an example, really. I'm nothing special. Anyone can study hard and put in the effort, whatever their circumstances,” she insists.
But with this level of determination in the face of setbacks and tragedies of a magnitude far beyond anything the majority of adults, let alone teenagers, will ever have to deal with, if it lies in Lia's hands, she is sure of a highly-successful future.
You may also be interested in ...
More Community/Public Services content
HEALTH authorities have confirmed that the sunscreen a leading consumer organisation had doubts about was 'correctly labelled' and does not need to be withdrawn from sale. The OCU said the ISDIN Fotoprotector...
LIFEGUARDS on Spanish beaches want to see alcohol banned to keep bathers safe, pointing out the dangers of drinking and then going into the sea. In the same way as the public is now conscious of the extreme risk of...
PENSIONERS who headed up the weekend's Gay Pride march in Madrid recall how far Spain has come in protecting their rights – and many say they attended the first-ever Pride festival in the capital 41 years ago when...