Skip to main content

Ukrainian refugee families find friendship, support through B.C. reading club


When school starts up again next month, there will be some children attending classes in Canada for the first time after fleeing the war in their home country of Ukraine. In Burnaby, B.C. some of those kids and their families are getting a chance to connect as part of a specially formed reading club -- and their bond goes beyond books.

Armstrong elementary school teacher Iuliia Sukhina-Volkova has been heading up the club for younger students every weekend since mid-June, at the Cameron and Tommy Douglas libraries in Burnaby.

“I really wanted to do something that would help those kids have a positive experience,” she said. “And I think they are really enjoying it.”

The coordinator of the Burnaby school district’s settlement workers in-school program Natalya Khan said there are 50 students registered who have arrived from Ukraine since February.

“I know that we have a few more waiting to be registered as well, when the school reopens, so we do expect this number to rise,” she said. “About two-thirds of the registered children are elementary school age.”


Sukhina-Volkova contacted Khan hoping to help in some way, and the reading club was created.

Khan said initially they thought they might keep the club going till the end of July, but more families kept arriving.

“We decided the best way for the teacher to support the kids would be to offer them an opportunity to be together, to learn together, to play together,” she said. “Just to be kids.”

Sukhina-Volkova said the libraries were happy to help as well, and the families were excited about the idea.

“Some of them came in May, some in June, some of them came two weeks ago,” she said. “So they were super happy that they could find a place where the kids could meet friends.”

Sukhina-Volkova said she starts the club with a round of charades, and then reads a story which the kids write or draw about afterwards.

“Most of them don’t have any English, so I read a story in Ukrainian or in Russian to them, and sometimes in English, because they all want to learn English and they want to kind of get ready for school as much as possible,” she said. “And then at the end we usually try to find 10 to 15 minutes when they just go to the library and pick their books.”

Khan said after the elementary school groups started, a high school teacher also offered to help and is now running a reading club for older kids from Ukraine.

“We find that for teenagers, it’s even more important to find peers and become friends with one another,” Khan said. “Many families come even from the same city, but before they came to the reading club or conversational club, they didn’t know about one another.”


The students aren’t the only ones making friends. Khan said the parents have also made connections.

“When it happened, we were very happy to see that,” she said. “How they make friends, how they share resources and how they feel comfortable and happy with one another.”

Olha Ilnyntskayia came to Canada with her six year-old son Erik in May. She said the families greatly appreciate how the club has brought them together.

“We are alone here, and this is our family,” she said. “Our kids are friends, we are friends…it’s something like a big family with people who are not your family, and you are together. It’s good.”

Khan said she would like to see more volunteers who could provide language lessons for adults, as well as mentors at workplaces who could help explain the differences in a particular field for someone with the same skill-set from Ukraine. She added they have two groups for adults currently, and help them connect with free programs and other resources.

“They were not prepared to leave their country. They had to leave on a very short notice. We have many families whose English level is at the beginner level. It’s hard for them to find jobs based on their previous level back in Ukraine,” she said.

“It’s a challenge, but they are resilient families. They went through a lot…the positive attitude and they way they approach the problems really make me hopeful that they will overcome whatever comes their way." Top Stories

Stay Connected