John Bapst wants 4 Ukrainian students to stay in Bangor another year.
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BANGOR, Maine — Maria, or “Masha,” Gidulianova vividly remembers the day before Russian forces invaded Ukraine.
After school let out on Feb. 23, 2022, she and a friend strolled down the streets of their beloved city of Odesa, taking Gidulianova’s dog for a walk. Vehicles packed with Ukrainian soldiers drove past, and the girls smiled and waved to them.
“But they did not respond. There was such sadness in their faces,” she recalled Friday. “That is the moment when I understood there will be a war. I didn’t know when, but I knew it was coming.”
David Armistead, the head of school, learned about the Ukrainian students during a webinar sponsored by the Maine International Trade Center and the U.S. Department of Commerce in April of last year. Having watched the news about the country’s schools and other infrastructure crumble to pieces, he volunteered to accept up to four students on full scholarship, meaning their education, food and living expenses would be covered.
For these Ukrainian teenagers, the experience has meant getting to learn in a safe space far from the threat of a missile obliterating their school. The school has 58 international students, but these four are John Bapst’s first ever from Ukraine.
Eight months into their stay in Bangor, the students have asked to study here for another year, which would mean Romashchin and Smetana could graduate in Maine. John Bapst’s administrators and teachers also hope to keep the students, but educating children on full scholarship is rare for the independent high school, so funding is the biggest barrier, he said.
“When we volunteered to take the kids, we didn’t know how long the war would last,” he said. “We were optimistic that it would be quick, but these are extraordinary circumstances. Everyone at school wants these kids to stay with us. We love them. We want them to be safe.”
Armistead and the students’ parents have been communicating about how to extend their schooling in Bangor. It costs about $16,000 to educate a typical student at the school, not including room and board, he said. Tuition for international students, including meals and accommodations in student residences, is $51,750 each.
The families contributed a small fraction of the tuition for this year, Armistead said, but the war has affected the income of most Ukrainians. Some banking services and sites have shut down, and Russian forces have targeted the country’s energy grid, interrupting access to power for millions.