This student wanted to bring joy to children in Ukraine—here’s how did it from Birmingham


L R Alexander Skowronski and Akshay Gaddamanugu edited This student wanted to bring joy to children in Ukraine—here's how did it from Birmingham
Alexander Skowronski and Akshay Gaddamanugu. (The Altamont School)

As the war in Ukraine enters a second year, Altamont School student Alexander Skowronski wants to help keep a spotlight on young Ukrainian refugees. Through a project with the school’s C. Kyser Miree Ethical Leadership Center, he’s done so much to bring joy to Ukrainian children. Keep reading to learn more.

Bringing light to children in Ukraine

Saint Nicholas at Yazlovets 2 This student wanted to bring joy to children in Ukraine—here's how did it from Birmingham
Over 70 children in Ukraine received gifts and handwritten notes. (The Altamont School)

At the start of the war, Alexander held virtual meetings between his school peers and the displaced students. When Ukrainian physician Katia Zaharodnia brought up the idea of helping Ukrainian children at Christmas, Alexander and fellow Altamont student Akshay Gaddamanugu accepted the challenge and got to work.

Alexander wants to make a long-term impact on those in Ukraine.

“I believe the impact to the individual child will be felt as that child grows up. I hope when they are an adult, they’ll remember that when they were young, they received presents from the United States. Hopefully, that brings a good feeling towards the United States and the West.”

Alexander Skowronski

Learn more about The Altamont School.

Here’s how the project worked

Saint Nicholas at Yazlovets This student wanted to bring joy to children in Ukraine—here's how did it from Birmingham
St Nicholas. (The Altamont School)

Akshay said that even though “you can just send gifts to a war zone and call it a day,” they wanted to make a more significant and personal commitment by addressing the specific wishes of individual children, and that’s exactly what they did. Because of their project and with the help of donors and volunteers, 70 children were able to experience a little extra joy after a very scary year.

“You brought our children not only the presents, but also you brought back their hope and childhood.”

Ukrainian volunteer Daryna Viktorova

Here’s what they did:

  • Collected letters from the refugee children to Saint Nicholas
  • Found translators
  • Worked with Altamont Director of Advancement Stephanie Brooks to raise over $4,000
  • Bought the items the children requested
  • Organized wrapping events
  • Ensured that the gifts were delivered on time to refugee centers at Yazlovets and Tlumach

Knowing that a letter from Saint Nicholas is also a special tradition, Akshay and Alexander even worked with a calligrapher to create personalized notes for the children. Their fellow Altamont students were eager to help along the way.

“Our peers helped us in a variety of ways. Firstly, many encouraged their parents to donate. Also, on their day off, many students came in to help wrap the presents before they would be sent to Ukraine.”

Alexander Skowronski

A long-term commitment

Altamont Students Wrap Gifts for Ukraine This student wanted to bring joy to children in Ukraine—here's how did it from Birmingham
Many Altamont students got involved. (The Altamont School)

Miree Center Director Beth Dille helps students understand that projects like these are projects are long-term commitments. The center emphasizes the need for life balance and pacing in what can be a service marathon.

Skowronski said that he will take the spring to listen and reflect and plan for how he will continue to support Ukraine next year.

Consistent communication is essential to the success of his efforts, he said. He wants to make the people of Ukraine feel seen and heard. As Daryna Viktorova wrote to him after the project, “the greatest thing for us, Ukrainians, is to be loud. If we’ll be silent, we will be forgotten and then gone.” 

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