Since the beginning of May, three groups of Ukrainians fleeing the war have been coming together at MacEwan University twice a week to learn English. 

Filling a need until government-funded English language courses became available was part of the Ukrainian Resource and Development Centre’s (URDC’s) motivation when they set out to create the courses in March. But it wasn’t the only goal.

“We also wanted to provide healing spaces, a sense of community and a place for people to feel comfortable and included,” says Larisa Hayduk, director of the URDC. “The response – from the volunteers who made this possible to the participants themselves – has been incredible.” 

Instructors from MacEwan’s School of Continuing Education and the Edmonton Ukrainian community, including Melody Kostiuk, were quick to offer their time to develop curriculum and lesson plans. 

“As members of the Edmonton Ukrainian community, we are very much affected by what is happening in Ukraine, but it can be challenging to know how to help,” says Kostiuk, a former Ukrainian bilingual teacher who works with Alberta Education. “This opportunity was an outlet for me – something concrete to do to be of assistance.”

For two hours twice a week for the past eight weeks, Kostiuk and her fellow instructors have been working with their teaching assistants, including MacEwan alumni and members of the Ukrainian Student Club, to create opportunities for Ukrainian newcomers to learn some basic English skills – enough to help prepare them for job interviews, be more comfortable in settling into life in Edmonton and as a bit of an escape.

A classroom filled with students and instructors sitting in rows.Participants come together for the final class on June 29.

“Many participants have thanked us for creating this space where they could laugh, converse with each other and spend a couple of hours not worrying about finding a job, how they were going to make ends meet or what was happening in Ukraine,” says Kostiuk. 

Anna Brenovan, a 25-year-old retail worker from Vinnytsia, is one of the students hoping that honing her English skills will help her in the next steps of her journey in Canada. 

“When I finally found these classes, I was so excited,” she says. “I learned some English in the store where I worked in Kyiv – we have customers from other countries, and they speak English, so I can understand English. But I don’t know enough words to speak comfortably.”

Because Brenovan had some English skills already, she ended up being a support for her classmates. 

“I was one of the youngest in my class at MacEwan,” she says. “We are all different ages and from different cities in Ukraine – Kyiv, Vinnytsia, Odesa, Mykolaiv. We learned together and helped each other with what we need to do next with documents and other steps.”

Some of her classmates have already found employment, while others, like Brenovan, are considering taking more classes to continue improving their language skills. 

“I really need to find a job, and it’s hard without speaking English well.” 

Now that more services are available to Ukrainian newcomers and there are more options for English language training, the URDC will look for other ways to help, says Hayduk.

“This is what we do at MacEwan – we serve, collaborate and engage with our community.”

MacEwan’s School of Continuing Education, English as an Additional Language program provided resources, advising and volunteers for this project. The Ukrainian Foundation provided funding to provide honoraria for instructors and welcome packages for the newcomers for College Education.


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