Teen brothers volunteer to help Ukrainians learn English

Both fluent in Russian, Renton residents Michael and Greg Chaikou were inspired to help Ukrainian immigrants affected by the war.

Over the last year, two brothers — 15-year-old Michael Chaikou and 13-year-old Greg Chaikou — have spent their free time helping Ukrainians learn English.

“We wanted to help out with the current conflict going on [in Ukraine] and we wanted to do something for the community and really give back to it,” said Michael, who goes to Liberty High School.

Starting in early 2023, Michael and Greg became virtual volunteers for an initiative called “Free English for Ukrainians,” which is provided on the messaging app Telegram, a popular app among Ukrainians. With over 2,300 subscribers, the channel is in Ukrainian and Russian, the latter of which both boys are fluent in.

For a few hours a week, Michael and Greg check homework and assist groups of two to 10 students in a virtual chat as the students learn English.

“We use pre-recorded lessons from a teacher who records these lessons and sends them to us and then we redistribute these lessons to the students,” said Michael. “There’s beginner, there’s intermediate and advanced […] most of them came here to the U.S. looking for a job, looking for something, and English is one of the biggest languages here. And so learning that language would be very beneficial for them.”

Michael, Greg and their younger brother Stan are first-generation Belarusian-Americans. Their parents, Alexandra and Yuri, emigrated from Belarus to Renton in 2007 after Yuri accepted a job as a software developer at Microsoft.

“That’s kind of why me and my brother wanted to help out in this because we knew how big of an impact English would have on these people that are just coming into the United States,” said Michael.

Alexandra, who has a degree in teaching art, heard about the “Free English for Ukrainians” initiative from a Renton local who helped found the program.

“This is sort of like a very local thing, but people who are part of those groups, they’re from all over the country,” she said.

As Michael and Greg continue with their virtual volunteer work, they say the idea of in-person English learning is something worth trying.

“We would definitely expand to more of a broader scale to impact more people, and we would definitely try and open up in personal learning, as it is far better to learn in person than virtually online,” said Michael.

To become involved with the free English learning program as a student or volunteer, search “Free English for Ukrainians, #FE4U” in the Telegram app.