Fariba Kazemi says she is in regular contact with a former Ukrainian exchange student who is now fighting in the war there. “He gives me general updates about what is going on,” Kazemi said, adding that it is quiet where he is at, but in the eastern part of the country things are much worse.
Kazemi, who lives in the Heritage East neighborhood, worked as the community coordinator for the Program of Academic Exchange in Columbus, Ohio, before moving to Albuquerque. She says many of the students who came to the U.S. through the program are from former Soviet states, including a few from Ukraine who are now refugees in neighboring Poland and Slovakia. She says the Ukrainian students came to the U.S. through the State Department’s Future Leaders Exchange Program.
“I’m sending a couple care packages to Poland to former Ukrainian exchange students. If anyone would like to contribute items or money for the shipping costs, please let me know,” Kazemi wrote on the NextDoor app.
Kazemi gave more details Wednesday. She said one of the former students, Halyna, fled Lviv, Ukraine, after Russian soldiers invaded the country earlier this year. Halyna is now in Gdańsk, Poland, with her 2-year-old son. Vladyslava, another exchange student from Kyiv, Ukraine, is also in Poland and recently said she expects to go home soon. Lesya, a former exchange student from Bucha, Ukraine, is now in Slovakia.
According to a March 25 United Nations report, there are more than 6.5 million internally displaced Ukrainians and 3.7 million who have fled the country. More than 2 million of those refugees are in neighboring Poland and at least a quarter million in Slovakia, according to the UNHCR. Kazemi hopes to send care packages to the former students she knows in both countries and is asking for ibuprofen, bandages, scarves, small toys, stuffed animals and donations to help pay for shipping costs. Anyone interested can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kazemi will be at Rotary Park in Heritage East for the Easter egg hunt there Saturday, April 16, where items can be donated in person. She said the best way to get a hold of her is by email, but she can also be reached by text message after connecting by email first.
Other organizations taking donations for Ukrainian refugees include Our Lady of Perpetual Help Byzantine Catholic Church, the Salvation Army and Nazarene Compassionate Ministries.