In an effort to offer continued support for Ukrainians in Maple Ridge, free English lessons are being offered starting March 2023.
The classes, which will take place thrice a week from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., will be a five-month commitment for anyone aged 18 and above.
The initiative was first launched in August 2022 after Ukrainian refugees started to arrive in Maple Ridge.
A local group, Ridge Meadows Ukrainian Welcome Committee offered support to those who fled the war.
Read: Maple Ridge family sponsors Ukrainian family of four
Katerina Pogrebinsky reached out to the group to ask how she could help.
“When the war started, I had a lot of relatives in Ukraine and it impacted me personally. My family decided to host four people who arrived in May 2022. I reached out to the group to ask how I can help because I speak the language and host people,” said Pogrebinsky.
As a teacher, she understood that language would be a barrier for adults and students. So, she reached out to many local summer camp providers but none offered subsidized or free opportunities for Ukrainians to learn English.
It was then that she decided, along with her colleagues, to offer a two-week language course during the summer of 2022.
The Ukrainian committee provided funding for the course while Golden Ears United Church offered free space for the classes.
Although the committee is no longer functional, the classes soon became the Maple Ridge Language School.
From class to school
At first, a deposit of $90 was required for registration which would be reimbursed at the end of the course. However, they soon realized that the deposit could also pose a barrier and removed it.
Those who found jobs were moved to the evening session with a subsidized fee to generate enough funds to pay the teachers who are refugees themselves and support their families.
“Another reason for creating the school was employment too. We can’t run it fully as a volunteer program because we need those ladies to get the comfort of salary so they can survive,” said Pogrebinsky.
During the first program, 37 people registered for the morning classes while 11 registered for the evening classes.
For the session starting in March, seven have registered so far for the morning classes.
Language barrier for Ukrainians
Despite such initiatives, many Ukrainians are finding it hard to sustain a life in Canada and returning back to their war-torn country.
According to her, roughly 50 per cent of people have gone back to Ukraine because housing is really expensive.
“These people are living below the poverty line and say ‘I would rather live in the bullets, with no electricity and water than here, because here I can’t financially sustain.’”
From personal accounts shared with her, Ukrainians are also feeling exploited.
Employers offer cleaning or similar jobs to non-English speaking Ukrainians with a promise that after the three-month training period, they will be offered a salary and benefits.
Instead, at the end of the three months, they are fired and another Ukrainian is hired with the same promises.
“Many people are really upset and they were ready to make sacrifices and work for very cheap and make less money than the Canadians. And it’s not because people work badly but the Canadian employers often take advantage.”
Although Ukrainian refugees are offered medical services, there are too many barriers for them to stay here.
“The situation is pretty ugly, I have to say because none of those people chose to leave their homes, they were forced to go and they have no place to go.”
To register for the classes, you can email [email protected]