A First Step Toward Rebuilding: English as a Second Language Classes

Women in blue coat standing in room with boxes.

Khrystyna Sloan in a room housing donations for the people of Ukraine collected by the Ukrainian American Cultural Center of New Jersey.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Khrystyna Sloan, 38, of Morris Plains, a student at County College of Morris (CCM), found herself frightened, horrified and depressed over what was happening to the people in her home country. Meanwhile in Ukraine, Viktoriia Zolotarova, 51, found her region the site of massive missile attacks that destroyed the area’s electrical, gas, water and communications systems, along with hospitals, schools, banks, bridges and her home.

“Rockets, bombs from planes, including banned phosphorus bombs . . . all this rained down from the sky nonstop,” recalls Zolotarova, of Stanhope, communicating with the assistance of a translator.

Hearing of such atrocities, Sloan, who had left Ukraine at age 22, made a decision. “I could either remain depressed or focus on positivity,” she says. Her answer was to serve as a volunteer at the Ukrainian American Cultural Center of New Jersey (UACCNJ) in Whippany. There she has helped organize fundraisers and collections to send an ambulance, bus, clothes, toys, diapers and other essential items to the people of Ukraine, an ongoing effort. To help those who had fled the country as refugees, she became part of a group that approached CCM about providing free English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at UACCNJ, so parents can learn while their children participate in other activities.

Irena Kaler, director of Workforce Development and Community Partnerships at CCM, says they initially expected about 20 students would enroll for the classes – beginners and intermediate – that began in November. They ended up with more than double that amount, requiring opening another session of each class.

“The classes offered by CCM are a huge help for me and others,” says Zolotarova, who while in Ukraine was the director of Europe’s largest insurance group and is now a part-time cashier at Dollar General.

Women standing near a table with vases of flowers and leaves.

Viktoriia Zolotarova in the hallway of the Ukrainian American Cultural Center of New Jersey where she is learning English after being forced to leave her country.

“This is a huge help to Ukrainian refugees who were left without a home and whose lives were shattered to pieces.”

She adds, “I am very grateful for the opportunity to study for free because at the moment I earn no more than $700 a month and cannot pay for my studies, and I need English like air.”

Helping to cover the cost of instructors and textbooks are the pastors and church members of the Presbytery of the Highlands of New Jersey.

“The people in our church pews are heartbroken by the extent of the tragedy our neighbors in Ukraine are experiencing,” shares Pastor Sarah Cairatti from the First Presbyterian Church of Whippany. “The generosity of the area Presbyterian churches to support the ESL classes offered by CCM is completely heartwarming, but not surprising. Their gifts and support are truly the arms and legs of their sincere and constant prayers.”

So far more than $3,000 has been contributed to provide ESL classes at UACCNJ. Kaler notes, however, that as more Ukrainian refugees come into the area the demand will grow, and those in the beginner-level classes also will need to continue to advance.

Zolotarova, who holds degrees in chemical engineering and banking from Ukraine, has no plans to return to her home country. Her hope now is to rebuild her life in the U.S.

“My home and region are completely destroyed. Only ruins remain. Now I am building my life in the USA from scratch,” says Zolotarova. “My dream is to go to college to get a degree in order to build a career in the USA.”

Donations to support the ESL classes at UACCNJ can be made via the CCM Foundation at https://bit.ly/CCMFoundation-Donate; note in the Other Designation field that the funds are to go to “UACCNJ ESL Classes.” To support the UACCNJ programs to assist the people of Ukraine, go to https://uaccnj.org/.