October 07, 2022

DUSMO Delivers Free German Language Classes To Ukrainian Refugees

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More than a decade before the war in Ukraine began, Christian von Sydow founded a nonprofit organization to run an institution called the Bavarian House, Odessa, which teaches Ukrainians the German language and culture.

Years later, with thousands of Ukrainian refugees escaping to Germany—including many who do not speak German and require rapid training to integrate into the country's culture and workforce—there is a critical need for schools like the Bavarian House, Odessa.


To help Ukrainian refugees start a new life in Germany, Christian and a McDermott pro bono team sought financing to open a school that would offer free classes in Munich and the surrounding areas. Along with teaching language and cultural integration skills to refugees, the school would employ Ukrainian German-language teachers in both Munich and Odessa.


As a firm with a strong tax team and years of experience guiding nonprofit organizations through the German tax offices, McDermott was well-positioned to get the job done. A cross-practice transactions, tax and IP pro bono team including Christian, Gero BurwitzJonathan StorzSteffen Woitz and Claus Faerber established a not-for-profit school in Munich called the German-Ukrainian School München-Odessa, or DUSMO.

The school uses a dual model for teaching refugees, both online and in person. Teachers and students benefit from the flexibility of online classes, which allows students living anywhere in Germany to learn from teachers located in either Munich or Odessa.

Within four months after its launch in April 2022, the school had helped more than 200 students learn German through a series of intensive language courses.


To keep the school operational without charging students tuition or fees for classes, the McDermott team developed several avenues and opportunities for funding.

First, they began navigating a certification process to secure financing from the Federal Bureau for Migration and Refugees (BAMF)—a German authority that accepts and finances refugee integration schools under its regulatory regime—as soon as the budget becomes available. As part of their preparation, they are considering a variety of updates to the school's model, including expanding their focus and offering classes to refugees from countries other than Ukraine. The school's director, who left Odessa after the Russian invasion, has already received permission from the German authorities to act as an integration teacher.

The McDermott team also hosted a fundraiser and worked with the City of Munich, BMW and other organizations in Germany to collect donations, keeping the school afloat until it receives certification and funding from BAMF. As a firm, McDermott provided a donation to DUSMO through the fundraiser.

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