English to the East

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Anna is a Kyiv native who is passionate about leveraging education to build meaningful connections. Growing up, she had the chance to travel to high school in the United States. That experience was transformative. She shared her education with people from diverse backgrounds and understood the power of learning in cross-cultural environments. For Anna, speaking fluent English was a doorway to connecting with opportunities worldwide. 


But speaking a foreign language is a privilege that most young Ukrainians cannot access. Even going to school is becoming a privilege in many of the country’s regions. In 2014, when Russia invaded Eastern Ukraine, millions of children were internally displaced. By 2015, the United Nations reported that five million people in the region relied on humanitarian assistance [1]. Since the conflict broke out in 2014, over 750 schools have been closed or destroyed amid fighting [2]. After years of constant Russian aggression, the impact has spread to all areas f life. In 2019, UNICEF reported that approximately 430,000 children in Easter Ukraine carry psychological trauma caused by living in a conflict area [4].


In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the education crisis in the region. The remaining schools closed down and transferred their offerings online. Already struggling with displacement, young students had difficulty accessing online learning opportunities. Foreign language learning became a true luxury, as children in areas like Donetsk and Luhansk had little access to quality lessons in schools and parents were not in a financial position to supplement their education. 


That’s when Anna and her team decided to create English for the East. English to the East is a learning program that provides internally displaced students in Eastern Ukraine with a comprehensive learning experience. The program matches students with trained peer mentors from various countries who lead online English lessons. Peer mentors lead informational, interactive, fun lessons to teach language skills via Zoom. At the start and end of the program, each cohort undergoes a placement test to understand their development. Students complete a challenge, like delivering a TEDx-style speech to their class.


The most potent part of English to the East is their integrated approach to learning. The project creates an international community of peer support through building language skills. For some participants, this is the first time they have met a foreigner. Participants connect through complementary activities like speaking clubs and meetings on further educational opportunities. Crucially, English to the East also provides professional psychological support for young people to begin processing the mental effects of conflict. 


In 2020 and 2021, Peace First provided mini-grant funding for English to the East’s activities. With our support, they could organize their lessons via Zoom, bolster their social media presents and encourage participation by providing learning packs for students and mentors. With the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, English to the East’s work becomes even more critical. Despite the country's humanitarian crisis, they continue to provide free online classes for their community. They have responded by expanding their program offerings, giving lessons on a growing variety of subjects.


You can follow English to the East on Facebook and email them at english.to.the.east@gmail.com


[1] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 2022. 2022 Humanitarian Needs and Response Overview: Ukraine. <https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/sites/www.humanitarianresponse.in…;

[2] Ukraine Education Cluster. 2022. Ukraine Education Cluster Secondary Data Review Report, 4th of March 2022. <https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/uec_sdr_report_2022-03-05.pdf>

[3] UNICEF. 2 December, 2019. 430,000 children continue to bear the brunt of eastern Ukraine conflict.