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Ukrainian refugees land in Kelowna with hopes to learn English, work

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When Blaine Melnyk sent out the word that his school would be happy to offer some English classes to Ukrainian refugees transitioning to a new life in Kelowna, he thought he’d pique the interest of a few people.

He underestimated the appeal.

Uptake for English lessons at International Gateway Kelowna has grown to more than double the eight free spots initially on offer and the class roster is poised to expand more.

Read more: Okanagan group purchases fully equipped ambulance for Ukraine

“We found it’s become a meeting hub, a safe haven, or a place they could meet up with other new Ukrainians,” Melnyk said, adding that it’s been a lot of fun for all involved.

The growing popularity has been such that Ukrainians arriving in Kelowna are making the school one of their earliest stops on the way to building a new life.

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“We had a family that came to Seattle, arrived in Kelowna Friday and they were at our school Monday,” he said.

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Those who arrive at their doors vary in age and English level. They’ve had three generations of the same family arrive at their door, as well as children and seniors. Some are conversational and others never thought they’d need the language, and have never even spoken a word of English before. All, however, are keen to start.

“We’re having conversations with bankers, graphic designers, photographers and landscape designers,” he said.

“Across the board, professionals of all kinds are looking for English…. They are in a good position to be integrated into the community quickly and they are so positive.

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“Just the work ethic you see, and their desire to improve.…. It will make a positive impact in Canada, it’s heartwarming.”

Stefania Miroshnychenko is one of 19 Ukrainian newcomers learning English at the International Gateway language academy and college in Kelowna. She’s a former graphic designer in Ukraine.

“It’s a great opportunity to learn English, to improve my English, make it better,” Miroshnychenko said. “Before I came to Canada, it was the end of May, I barely (spoke) English”

In a similar position is Iiona Vashchuk.

“We are photographers and videographers. So we must know English (to) communicate with people. So that’s my work,” Vashchuk said.

“We need to know English because we want to live here and we want to start our business here.”

Read more: Ukrainian refugees, mother and daughter, arrive in the Okanagan

While being popular is a pretty good problem to have, Melnyk said it does also offer some challenges. Mostly, that’s in the area of expenses.

To meet the needs of the burgeoning Ukrainian population the school will have to hire a new teacher and for that, they’re hoping to get a corporate sponsor.

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“We want to accommodate them,” Melnyk said.

Any individuals or businesses interested in helping out can send an email to blaine@igcanada.com or call Melnyk at 236-795-7193.

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