From UO to Ukraine: The Power of Education is Strong 


(Photo by Noa Schwartz/Daily Emerald) 

Growing up in Hillsboro, Oregon, Jake McGrew had never left the country, let alone the Pacific Northwest, so he never would have imagined joining the Peace Corps and make teaching English in Ukraine his life, 

“If you would ask 13–14-year-old Jake…he would have no idea where Ukraine is. I always saw myself [living] in the US in Oregon or Washington. I did not see this coming,” McGrew said. 

In McGrew’s junior year at the University of Oregon, he attended the Spring Job Fair, where he learned about the Peace Corps, an International Volunteer Group. On a whim, McGrew applied to join the Peace Corps, and when he graduated in 2013, McGrew was told he had been assigned to teach English in Ukraine  

“They said, ‘you're gonna go to Ukraine, you're going to teach English.’ I wanted to do something after my five years at UO. So, I went and I was like, this is gonna be really boring,” McGrew said. “It's not like I'm going to any country that's at war.” 

McGrew was mistaken, for less than six months after beginning his program in late 2013, Ukraine was faced with a political revolution that ousted the President by February of 2014.  The Peace Corps, concerned by the political turmoil, pulled out over 200 volunteers from Ukraine and sent them home. Soon after the revolution, Russia annexed the Ukrainian oblast of Crimea before the end of February, further suspending Peace Corps operations.  

But McGrew had fallen in love with Ukraine and its people. Despite having to flee the first time, McGrew was convinced to return to Ukraine and finish his 27-month Peace Corps program. After a year-long hiatus, McGrew returned to the northwestern region of Volodymyr to continue teaching English.  

Upon completing his Peace Corps service in 2016, McGrew enrolled in graduate school at Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. McGrew had planned to earn his master’s degree in Public Administration in Budapest and then return to Ukraine for work. However, according to McGrew, when President Donald Trump was elected in 2016, Ukraine saw a significant drop in U.S. aid, which made it hard for McGrew to find a job in the field of international organizations as he had planned. 

Despite his wishes, McGrew moved back to America where he took a job as an auditor in Arizona — a job which McGrew hated, he said. McGrew then joined Teach for America where he taught middle schoolers in California while earning his teaching credentials. McGrew said he wanted to return to Ukraine with his teaching credentials and resume teaching English. 

“Everything I was doing was [in effort] to return [to Ukraine] after my Peace Corps service,” said McGrew. 

Life in Ukraine 

In 2021 McGrew accepted a teaching position in Bulgaria and later in the year a position at the American University Kyiv in Ukraine. McGrew was scheduled to begin work in the summer of 2022. Less than two months later, on Feb. 24 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and McGrew’s soon to be job position was cast into uncertainty. 

“I got really worried, [for] one, will I ever be able to ever go to the country again?” McGrew said. “Two, will I have this position? There were a lot of questions.”   

Fortunately for McGrew his position was still open. McGrew taught online for one year while obtaining a Ukrainian residence permit and ended up moving to Lutsk, a city in northwest Ukraine; a region that McGrew said was safer than other parts of the country.  

McGrew is still living in Lutsk. He teaches online classes while occasionally commuting for work to Kyiv, where he plans on moving in the coming months.   

But McGrew is extremely pessimistic for the future of Ukraine if more U.S aid is not received. He thinks that Ukraine is running out of time. 

“They [the U.S] just passed a bill for Defense [Spending] for $886 billion. [Ukraine is asking] for $60 billion. It's like 1%, it's such a small part that [I] just don't understand,” McGrew said. 

McGrew thinks that if Ukraine is defeated, it will not be the last European country that Russia attacks. 

“If Ukraine falls then Russia is that much closer to NATO countries,” said McGrew. “If Russia tries attacking or invading any NATO countries… then suddenly it [the war] becomes much bigger and U.S. soldiers suddenly have to start going to fight Russians in Europe and we [would] have World War Three.”  

McGrew said not only does Ukraine need U.S. aid to keep fighting, but that Ukrainians are scared that if Donald Trump were to be reelected as President in November, all U.S. funding would stop.  

“I think every Ukrainian is really worried about [Trump being elected], because it's kind of understood here [in Ukraine] that if Trump were to win, that means there's no more aid at least from the U.S.,” McGrew said. “People don't really want to talk about it because it's just so depressing. But it's a pretty common understanding.” 

McGrew is also worried that if Ukraine were to lose, he would be forced to leave the country. A country in which he “fell in love with” fresh out of University of Oregon, and in which he plans on buying a home and continuing to teach.  

McGrew acknowledged the immense privilege he has to leave Ukraine, as there is a law in the country preventing most Ukrainian men from fleeing. He said that he doesn’t want to leave the country, but it is something he has had to plan for as a contingency. 

“I have a bag right now that's packed like an evacuation bag, just in case. I'm at that point right now,” McGrew said. 

McGrew said he wants Americans to continue talking about Ukraine, amongst other topics of conversation.  

“The easiest thing is just stay up to date on what's happening. If you can have conversations with people about it, just talk about it every once in a while, keep it in the news,” McGrew said. 

McGrew also encourages students and adults alike to continue writing to their representatives and senators to remind them of the conflict in Ukraine. 

 “[Tell them] this is important, not only for Ukrainians…I don't want us [the US] to get pulled into another war. A lot of people think sending the weapons right now is being pulled into the war—but we're avoiding being pulled into the war…by sending weapons,” McGrew said. 

McGrew hopes people will also donate to humanitarian aid groups operating in Ukraine. His favorite humanitarian aid group is Razom for Ukraine.  

“Even just a little bit of help makes a huge difference,” he said. 

The morning that the Daily Emerald interviewed McGrew, 18 people had been killed and more than 130 injured in a Russian missile attack on the cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv — a death toll McGrew said “could have been much lower if the [Ukrainian] military had the necessary weapons.” 

“What this aid actually means for Americans might not have as much connection unless you know someone in Ukraine,” McGrew said. “But every day that this aid doesn't come to Ukraine, it's lives, it's people dying.”  


Anthony, Tarek. “From UO to Ukraine: The Power of Education Is Strong.” Daily Emerald, Emerald Media Group, 5 Feb. 2024, www.dailyemerald.com/news/from-uo-to-ukraine-the-power-of-education-is-strong/article_5beee49e-c3f1-11ee-bf8f-83cd4090d2d9.html. Accessed 5 Feb. 2024.