They discuss the new timetable: Natalia Terekhova, Thomas Rohner, Natalia Popyk and Mariana Melnykovych (from left).
Leah ErnstEditor society
Natalia Terekhova (38) sits in front of her new timetable. Monday: Reconstruction of power plants. Tuesday: Urban mining, i.e. extracting raw materials from the ruins of war. In addition, there is the construction of orphanages, damage analysis, corruption prevention and the development of heating systems.
“Rebuild Ukraine” is the name of the further training that the Bern University of Applied Sciences will be offering from February. 30 refugee Ukrainian women will develop their own projects and learn how they can help rebuild their country after the war. The Certificate of Advanced Studies (CAS) course lasts four months and is possible thanks to the cooperation of several Swiss universities and companies.
From the hail of rockets to Thun
“At first I thought that we would be back home after a few months,” says Terekhova. Last March, she and her partner fled from Kyiv to Thun with their children and two of their relatives’ children. They lived with a Swiss family for three months, and since then they have shared a house with two Ukrainian women.
Everyday life is very difficult for Terekhova, knowing that family and friends in Ukraine could die any day. She would like to see her again soon. But as long as the situation is so uncertain, she will stay here with her children. “Just thinking back to the missile alarm makes me feel like I’m in a horror movie,” she says.
But as soon as the war is over, she wants to go back. “Ukraine is our home.” For 15 years she ran a consulting firm in the construction sector in Kyiv. When she heard about the new CAS at the Ukraine conference in Lugano in the summer, she was thrilled. “I thought: This is the opportunity to help my country.”
Swiss universities of applied sciences join forces
When Russian troops invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Thomas Rohner (61) couldn’t stand the idleness. “We have to do something,” he said to his wife. Today he is the director of studies for the CAS «Rebuild Ukraine». The professor of architecture, wood and construction at the Bern University of Applied Sciences says: “What better way could I help than with further training for refugee Ukrainians?”
Setting up a CAS in just one year was intensive. Rohner didn’t want to develop anything completely new, but to bring together the skills that already exist in Switzerland. He drummed technical colleges and companies together – with an overwhelming response. Everyone wanted to help. The curriculum for the CAS is now in place: theoretical modules at technical colleges in Biel, Zurich, Rapperswil SG and Lucerne, plus practical workshops at companies such as the sanitary group Geberit.
The CAS is intended for women with a direct or indirect connection to the construction sector. But men and career changers can also take part. “We give them the methods so that they can assess and design the reconstruction,” says Rohner.
«Helping my country is my goal in life»
In the spring semester, 30 Ukrainian women will take part. 50 have registered. “Looks like there will also be a fall semester,” says Rohner. For him, it is essential: “We in Switzerland have no experience with post-war reconstruction.” The concrete project ideas should therefore come from the students themselves. Together with the Ukrainian course assistant Mariana Melnykovych (37), Rohner established contacts with Ukrainian companies and organizations in order to work closely with them.
The CAS costs 6,500 francs. Because many refugees cannot afford it, Rohner has organized a sponsorship system: companies from the construction industry or private individuals each sponsor one female student.
Terekhova is happy to be able to complete the CAS. In addition to a lot of new knowledge, she hopes for a new network and contacts. “Helping my country is my goal in life,” she says. Nobody knows how the war will continue. But after the war Ukraine will be a different country. Everyone will have to help shape it. The further training helps the students to prepare for it.
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