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Nov 7, 2023

5 min. read

“THEY SAY EVERY SECOND PERSON in Winnipeg is either Ukrainian or married to one,” jokes Yulia Zmerzla. She’s the executive director of Oseredok (oseredok.ca), the largest Ukrainian cultural institution of its kind in Canada. Since 1944, Oseredok—which means “centre” in Ukrainian— has served as a museum, gallery, library and archival heritage institution, and it even has a small boutique that sells wares from artisans both near and far. In 2022, though, the centre took on a crucial new role—supporting newcomers.

“Over 20,000 Ukrainians have come to Manitoba since the full-scale war began,” says Zmerzla. In fact, Manitoba has welcomed more Ukrainian refugees per capita than any other Canadian province.

Oseredok’s first act to support those fleeing the war was an art auction that raised $40,000 for the Canada Ukrainian Foundation, a humanitarian aid group. But as greater numbers of Ukrainians began arriving at Oseredok, drawn by the name, staff realized that these newcomers had a specific, pressing need: to learn English. As Zmerzla points out, when you’re fleeing from a war, you don’t have the chance to prepare.

The centre hired a teacher and started offering a 10-week English language course, which has an ongoing waiting list. “At the moment, we can take only 40 people for each session because that is what our space can accommodate,” Zmerzla says. “Rain or snow, they come here. And they say, ‘Take me, please—I need to live my life.’ ”

To meet the high demand for language classes, Oseredok is currently fundraising to renovate, expand its space and convert the basement into classrooms. That extra space will come in handy for another purpose—Oseredok can continue offering casual classes to those who want to learn Ukrainian.

“We have so many requests from Canadians who want to learn because they host Ukrainian families in their house or have found a new friend,” says Zmerzla. “So many people just want to help.”

Do you know of a Good Place?

We want to celebrate community organizations that strive to make life better for all. Send nominations to drivenbygoodmb@caamanitoba.com to share their stories.

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