Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during the winter of 2022 was a nightmare for many Ukrainian teenagers. This was the case for one of our students – Roman – who happened to be visiting family friends on the day the city of Mariupol was besieged.

Hiding with his relatives in a city with no water, electricity, the freezing cold and incessant bombing, cut off from his mother far away in another region, he feared for his life. Living day by day, they sheltered from rockets that made the earth shudder, sharing what food they had, eating only once a day, and melting snow for water. As people died around them, the city turned to rubble.

After three weeks, his guardians made the decision to leave. He remembers that day clearly; travelling under a sky of shelling, they made their way out of the city, images Roman will never forget. Yet he was able to return to his mother and sister, far away from the dangers of the invasion. She swiftly made the decision to join the 8.1 million Ukrainians who have fled their war-torn country to find a safer life, as a friend in Malta offered to take them in.

A year later, Roman knows he is one of the lucky ones to get a fresh start, far away from the war. Thanks to the EU-activated temporary protection scheme, finding refuge in Malta has been a smooth transition. As he adapts to a new culture, Roman notices many differences with his home country – the climate, the languages and the contrasting environment. He may miss the green pastures of Ukraine, but he nevertheless appreciates the Maltese architecture, the narrow streets, balconies, sharp slopes, little cafes and smiling people.

An opportunity that was not anticipated as part of this leap of faith, was in his education; he was awarded the Verdala International School (VIS) Refugee Scholarship in September 2022, allowing him to further his studies in an independent school with a unique vocational course, the International Baccalaureate career-related programme (CP). This diploma is an alternative sixth-form pathway that allows students to develop their personal skills alongside specific subjects, in his case economics and business.

Roman is sponsored by VISfund, a charity that offers sixth form education at our school for a refugee in Malta. As expected, with limited classes in English in the past, improving his English skills was the greatest mountain to climb. Roman is the first to admit he is quite shy and more of a listener, yet in the last year, with dedicated teachers, he has improved exponentially and is now joining in discussions about ethics, climate change and business ideas.

Junior Achievement (JA) Malta offers young people the opportunity to hone their entrepreneurial skills by creating an authentic business model for a product of their choice. VIS students have been fortunate to participate in this annual initiative for many years now, participating along with the other Maltese teams at the JA fair.

As part of his business interest, Roman joined the Team Colori as their financier, and along with his fellow students they developed a Maltese-design adult colouring book that promotes mental health through mindfulness, giving all their profits to the Richmond Foundation.

The JA Malta Colori team manning a stand promoting its mindfulness colouring book. Roman is seen on the left.The JA Malta Colori team manning a stand promoting its mindfulness colouring book. Roman is seen on the left.

Guided by their team mentor, Vibe FM radio station’s Frank Zammit, they adapted their product and marketing approach. The judges at the JA fair in Valetta were impressed, leading to win the ‘Best Set up and Stand’ award and winning them a place to represent Malta at the JA International Student Company Festival in Latvia this month, and subsequently another win for ‘Best Video Advertisement’.

Roman’s experiences have been bountiful since taking on the scholarship, stepping into a school that values diversity, cultural differences and thriving young minds. A world away from the darkness and rockets that shattered his life a year ago.

Roman’s experiences have been bountiful since taking on the scholarship. A world away from the darkness and rockets that shattered his life a year ago.

What will his future hold? Hopefully something to do with numbers, he says, but he knows he has landed on his feet and is very grateful to VISfunds for giving him the chance to walk through a door into a bright future.


Anyone who would like to support the VISfunds refugee scholarship may visit www.visfunds for more information. To apply for the 2023-25 sixth form VISfunds Refugee Scholarship, e-mail

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