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“It gives spirit to our country"; Ukrainian exchange student in West Michigan starts fundraiser

“It gives spirit to our country"; Ukrainian exchange student in West Michigan starts fundraiser
Posted at 9:30 PM, Mar 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-01 23:13:46-05

CALEDONIA, Mich. — Yasmina Abdelrhim tries to press on despite the danger faced by her loved ones over the past week. 

“I couldn’t believe it was true,” said Abdelrhim. “I was calling my grandmother and I asked, ‘It’s not true, right? It’s just fake news?’ She was like, ‘I’m sorry, but it is [true].’ That was hard.” 

Abdelrhim is from Kharkiv, Ukraine, but has been in Caledonia since September as part of an exchange program. 

The 16-year-old says it has been difficult to sit idly by while Russia has invaded her hometown and other parts of the country. 

Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second largest city and is near the Russian border. On Tuesday, Russian forces bombed the central square in Kharkiv. At least six people were killed according to the Associated Press

Abdelrhim says her parents and two younger brothers fled Ukraine before the invasion, but most of her other family members and friends remain in the country and are hunkered down in bomb shelters. 

“Every morning you wake up and you see new messages from your friends and it says, ‘Oh just a bomb right near my house,’” said Abdelrhim.

In an effort to calm the worries, Abdelrhim and her host mother, Kim Piper, started a t-shirt fundraiser. Ten dollars from each sale will be donated to the Red Cross and other Ukrainian volunteer groups.

The t-shirts say, ‘I stand with Ukraine’ in blue and yellow, the country’s colors.

In just a couple of days, Abdelrhim and Piper have sold more than 150 shirts and raised $1,540 dollars.

“It’s made her smile more than I’ve seen her smile since everything has happened,” said Piper. “It’s very well worth [being] like a second full-time job.”

Abdelrhim called the show of support an incredible shock.

“I just couldn’t believe that it’s possible that people who are that far away can be that supportive,” said Abdelrhim.

She hopes it helps give Ukrainian people the push to move forward.

“It gives spirit to our country and that the world is with us,” said Abdelrhim. “The terrorism that is going on there, this [it] is not right and the world doesn’t support Russia and all of its actions.”

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