Opting Out of Lessons on How to Assemble a Kalashnikov

Russian girl comes to west London to achieve her full potential

Alina is hoping for selection in the England Shotokan karate squad later this year
Alisa is hoping for selection in the England Shotokan karate squad later this year

January 20, 2024

Back in spring 2022 shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Chiswick resident Inna Zhuranskaya was contacted by her second cousin Elijah Kan. She knew him from family events and weddings but they hadn’t been in touch very often over the years due to their age difference. Elijah and his wife Margarita lived with their three children, Alisa, Liliana and David, in Nizhny Novgorod in Russia.

All three of their offspring were gifted with six-year-old David showing promise in maths and chess in which he competed against children ten years older than himself and eleven-year-old Liliana was excelling in the humanities and gymnastics winning prizes at many major events.

Alisa, who is now sixteen, thrived both academically, receiving top grades in her exams and winning the Russian biology and science Olympiads, and as well as being top ranked in Russia for Shotokan karate for 2022 and 2023. On top of this she won third prize in the strings section of the Amateur Musician Competition in a city/region of about 2 million people and was a member of a children’s orchestra of string and folk instruments with a history of awards at international events.

Elijah told Inna that his family was growing increasingly concerned about the situation in Russia and the impact it was having on the children’s education. Some lessons and after school science clubs in Alisa's school were being cancelled and replaced by the “Lessons for Life” where Wagner-type individuals would give lectures to pupils telling them that USA and Britain were about to attack Russia to steal its natural resources.

The teaching of English was kept to a bare minimum but the red clothes day (i.e., one comes to school wearing everything red) and sessions in which the children were required to assemble and disassemble Kalashnikovs were introduced. Alisa’s ambition was to become a biomedical scientist specialising in discovery of new medicine and bioengineering but the standard of teaching of sciences was declining.

Moreover, as a Jewish family, the Kans were become aware of a rising tide of anti-Semitism in Russia. They were being met with suggestions that they should pay more for after school clubs and give donations to teachers at a school for mathematically gifted children they wanted to send their son to because they could afford it as Jews.

The parents, were academically-minded and the broader family, includes well known physicists, mathematicians and micro-biologists, and were uncertain how they could fund the education of their talented elder daughter.

The approach was therefore made to Inna and her wife Ruti Amal who agreed to care for Alisa and have since become her legal guardians.

With support from the Jewish community in London, they have managed to help Alisa adapt to her new life in London. After considering a number of other schools they obtained a place for her at Ealing Independent College, a private sixth form college in the centre of Ealing, with the school agreeing to give Alisa a scholarship to help with fees. The school is willing to give out 100% scholarships to the most talented students. The principal of the school, Allan Cairns had a number of conversations with Alisa’s parents to understand their concerns and hopes for their daughter. He told them that the school is particularly well regarded among the top universities in London for the quality of education it provides in the sciences and economics. It is the only school from the UK that is invited to participate in the annual Model UN competition in Harvard and MIT where about 500 pupils from all over the world take part and last year the Ealing school won the top prize.

With this support, Inna says that Alisa has thrived since coming to London. The school provides free English language classes to help her adapt and she is doing her A levels in mathematics, physics, biology and chemistry and continues with her karate. She was selected by her new club, Shiranamikai, to attend the World Open Championship with competitors from 10 different countries such as the USA, Germany and France and to be considered for selection for the English national squad. The selection committee was so impressed with her performance that she was invited to return in November when she is settled and her English is much improved. Alisa is also looking forward to attending the British Biology Olympiad next year and starting her internship in the King’s College London Randal Division of Cell and Molecular Biophysics during her Easter break.

Inna says, “She is very happy at the school, she is raving about the teachers and has not faced any antisemitism or anti-Russian sentiments from the Ukrainian students or from students of the Middle Eastern background.”

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