Ontario teens tutor Ukraine students who can't attend classes during war with Russia

Students in Ontario are helping to tutor young people in Ukraine whose education has been interrupted by the ongoing war with Russia.

Liza Riabokin, 14, says she was excited Homework Hub program could help her learn English

Liza Riabokin, 14, lives in Zaporizhia, Ukraine, and has been receiving help with her schoolwork through Homework Hub, a volunteer group based in Waterloo, Ont. (Submitted by Liza Riabokin)

Liza Riabokin's laptop and her stacked school books sit on a table with a tablecloth printed with sunflowers, Ukraine's national flower. 

In an interview via Google Meet, the 14-year-old speaks about how the war is affecting lives in Zaporizhia, 225 kilometres northeast of Mariupol, which has been a target of Russian troops during the conflict between the two countries. 

"It's scary because it's war, and every day we are hearing air raid alerts and we go to our bomb shelters," said the Grade 8 student. 

Despite the impact the war is having on her life, she continues to focus on her education. Liza recently started using Google Meet to learn English from tutors in Ontario.

"It's a great experience to talk with the native speakers. I was so excited about this," said Liza, who learned about the group Homework Hub, which was started by high school students in Waterloo, Ont., from her aunt's friend.

Liza Riabokin shared this photo of the space where she does her homework, including meeting over Google Meet for classes and when she meets with tutors from Homework Hub. (Submitted by Liza Riabokin)

Canadian teens feel connected to war

Paris Cai of Waterloo, Ont., founded Homework Hub in January 2021 when she saw her younger brother and his friends struggling with remote learning. It provided volunteer hours for high school students while also allowing students in Grades 1 through 6 to keep up with their schoolwork.

She said since starting Homework Hub, it has spread to other parts of the world, including India, Indonesia, Africa and Europe.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Cai said they wanted to do something to help.

"We know education right there is halted because of the conflict," she said.

Some volunteers in Ukraine reached out to her to suggest the tutoring service could help students in that country.

Paris Cai of Waterloo, Ont., founded Homework Hub in January 2021. (Submitted by Paris Cai, graphic design by Philip Street/CBC)

"It's really touching to be able to work with them and it's really inspiring to see how resilient they are, especially in a time like this. I did not think that education would be a top priority for them, but turns out it is and that's just really cool," she said.

Rachael Sun is one of the Waterloo tutors of a student in Ukraine.

"I'm really feeling the war on a much deeper level," Sun said of the experience, noting the positivity of the student she's tutoring through difficult times has been inspiring.

"Previously I felt more like an outsider who was obviously devastated for Ukraine," Sun said.

"Now that I have ties to Ukraine and I know a student who is experiencing war, I feel like I am experiencing this war in a different way." 

WATCH | Homework Hub grants teens volunteer hours and helps kids learn:

HomeworkHub grants teens volunteer hours and helps kids learn

2 years ago
Duration 1:25
Hub has teenagers tutoring young students in exchange for volunteer hours.

'I hope my future will be wonderful'

In her most recent tutoring session, Liza learned about conjunctions and worked on different tasks to improve her English.

"It's amazing," she said.

She's thankful for the help of Canadian tutors and is also hopeful she will soon be able to return to the classroom.

"I think we are going to win this war," she said. "I hope my future will be wonderful and without this war."