July 13, 2022

UCalgary PhD student on a mission to help Ukrainian evacuees at summer camp

Neuroscientist Anastasiia Stepanchuk wants kids from war-torn country to feel more at home in Canada
Anastasiia Stepanchuk

Anastasiia Stepanchuk is determined that attending a strange new school in a strange new country won’t add to the trauma already suffered by dozens of Ukrainian evacuee kids now living in Calgary.

It’s why the University of Calgary graduate student is currently looking for volunteer teachers, along with donated stationery and printing, for an evacuee-focused summer learning camp that already has more than 60 students signed up and more being added by the day.

“I expect that number to rise significantly by the time it starts in August,” says Stepanchuk, a PhD candidate in clinical neuroscience at the Cumming School of Medicine.

A chance for Ukrainian kids to feel at home

Stepanchuk calls her camp “Ready to study Ukrainian summer school” and on Aug. 2, students in Grades 4 to 12 will begin a three-week, half-day immersion in classes aimed to help the newcomers make friends, learn English and feel more at home with their new situation in Canada.

“It’s about providing a safe environment to meet other people, to reconnect, adapt and learn, so when they start school in September they’re not as whiplashed as they could have been,” explains Stepanchuk.

Younger brothers spurred her to act

For Stepanchuk, who came to Calgary from Ukraine four years ago to attend university, the ongoing Russian invasion has been a time of stress and worry — but when her mom and younger brothers, 12 and 15, arrived here as evacuees in June, she knew it was time to act.

“Even when I came here four years ago, it was an isolating experience at first, and for my brothers, I think this is crucial,” she says. “Having a support system where they can actually find people to share their problems with could be really good for their mental health and to help them adjust.”

Review the Alberta curriculum and brush up on English

As well as English classes and a review of the Alberta school curriculum, students will take part in crafts, sports and STEM activities.

The camp will take place at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in the community of Bridgeland, and Stepanchuk has already recruited some volunteer teachers from the Calgary Board of Education and Calgary Catholic School District.

Spurred to help other Ukrainian newcomers in the same situation as her brothers, Stepanchuk hopes that the students who attend the camp stay in touch and support each other throughout the school year.

“They’ll be able to talk to each other and stay in touch, as Ukrainians sharing the same experience and the same trauma,” she says.

To reach Anastasiia Stepanchuk about volunteer teaching opportunities and how to donate supplies, email her here.

Anastasiia Stepanchuk is a member of the Stys lab within the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) at the Cumming School of Medicine. Stepanchuk was awarded HBI’s PhD of the year. She hopes to defend her dissertation in November.