Fleeing Ukraine alone, resourceful teenager persuades Hungarian school to take her in

Among them is Alla Renska, 17, a tall girl with long blonde hair, who carries her hot pink backpack from class to class.

But Renska is no ordinary student, and she no longer lives an ordinary life, or the life she imagined a few weeks ago.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine changed all that.

“We heard explosions and our house was shaking,” Renska tells CNN.

It was then that her parents made the agonizing decision to send her to a safe place, outside the country.

She still can’t believe how quickly her life has changed since the Russian invasion. “It’s (the) 21st century, it’s Ukraine, it’s Europe, why?”

Renska’s parents arranged for her to stay with good friends in Hungary, as they stayed behind in the Ukraine to care for her elderly grandmother, who is too frail to travel.

She quickly packed.

“I will never forget that day,” he says, recalling the crowds of people sheltering in the subway to protect themselves from falling artillery. “Oh my gosh, there were so many people there!”

When Renska arrived at the train station, the crush of the crowd prevented her from saying goodbye to her father. They pushed her onto the train and that was it.

“I cried,” Renska remembers, “maybe all night.”

Not long after the train left, an air-raid siren sounded. His father had to sleep at the station, not knowing if his train was safe. He wouldn’t hear from her until he got to Hungary.

Renska took few photos during the trip, only the ones showing a gloomy landscape that she said matched how she felt.

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It was during the train ride that he decided to write an email to Korosi Baptist High School, one of the best schools in Hungary.

He wrote about the war and explained what had happened to him. He also told them about his achievements.

“I won competitions in the history of Ukraine, the Ukrainian language and foreign literature,” Renska wrote. “And I have already written three scientific papers at the kyiv branch of the Small Academy of Sciences in 2020, 2021.”

He ended his email with a plea: “I really want to go to school and continue studying! I kindly ask you to help me.”

She dated the letter, “The tenth day of the war in Ukraine.”

And help they did.

Renska took some photos during her train ride to Hungary.  She says that the gloomy scenery matched how she felt about running away from her homeland.

School officials launched an appeal among parents in the school community, raising about $90,000 to convert some spare shipping containers into dormitories with bedrooms, bathrooms, showers and a small kitchen outside the main school building.

These containers are now where Renska sleeps and studies.

He spends his days in classes and learning a new language: Hungarian.

Nights are spent in the dorm with a few other teenage girls who also recently fled Ukraine and were welcomed into the school.

Renska says that she likes living so close to the school and having the opportunity to meet other students from Ukraine.

“In Ukraine I had an amazing class and wonderful teachers. And there are amazing people here too,” he says, adding that they are “wonderful people who have become my family.”

The headmaster of Korosi Baptist Secondary School says he now has enough space to house 12 more students from Ukraine in the coming weeks.

The containers at Korosi Baptist High Shool have been converted into dormitories for Ukrainian refugees.

The school has also provided the girls with a psychologist, a Russian woman, who helps them cope with the trauma they have experienced.

Despite that trauma, Renska says she tries to remain stoic.

“I try not to cry and I try to be strong because my parents know that when I cry they don’t feel very good.”

That strength is shown when Renska video calls her parents. It’s all smiles as she updates them on school and work.

Her mother, Indira Renska, says she can’t explain how she feels with her daughter so far away.

“It’s too painful (to talk),” says Indira. “I love her very much. That she is safe now is the main thing for me.”

A photo Renska's parents sent her just after she left Ukraine, showing the first spring flower breaking through the snow near her home.

After the call ends and her mother hangs up, Renska’s brave facade falters and she begins to cry.

“It’s so unfair that I’m here and my parents are there,” he says.

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Nonetheless, she is determined to remain optimistic.

“I would just like a normal life,” says Renska, believing that one day she will be able to return to Ukraine, where she can go back to making silly videos with her friends, taking selfies and playing the bandura, a Ukrainian classic. instrument that has become a symbol of her country’s struggle for her existence.

For now, she is holding on to a photo her parents sent her just after she left. She shows the first flower of spring that makes its way through the snow near her house. A sign, they say, of brighter times to come.

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