Viktoriia Zakharova ’24 lives with her family in Kryvyi Rih, a central Ukrainian city of 600,000 that is also the hometown of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Since the onset of the Russia-Ukraine war, air raid sirens have been a part of residents’ daily lives.
“At least every night, the biggest cities of Ukraine and some villages get five to ten air raid sirens,” says Zakharova. “So people have to go and hide in a bunker or a corridor or hallway or something, so that way they can be protected. My parents are like that.”
In response, Zakharova is raising funds for humanitarian aid at home. With the support of an array of College community members, she has already raised more than $4,000.
“The day the bombing started, it was really shocking,” says Zakharova, a computer science and political science double major. “The Interfaith Office reached out to me asking if I wanted to do a vigil, so we did a one on [February 25], which was pretty cool.” She estimates about 20 to 30 people attended that peace vigil and a second one held on March 15.
“I feel like all Ukrainians right now, especially those in safety and abroad, share a common feeling of survivor’s guilt, and a really, really strong desire to help,” Zakharova says. “I’ve heard so many friends of mine who are in American colleges and from Ukraine expressing how guilty they feel to be in safety. So we are trying to help as much as we can without the opportunity of being there in the front line or volunteering there physically.”
When Zakharova’s boyfriend, also studying in the U.S., started a fundraiser to aid Ukrainian forces defending his city, Zakharova decided to join him.
“I donated to both them and my hometown,” she says. “His mom bought necessary supplies and groceries for the soldiers there. My dad in my hometown would buy groceries for senior citizens who can’t get out of the house.”
Zakharova’s initial idea was to hang posters up around the Swarthmore campus.
“I posted on my Instagram, asking my friends to come help me hang them up. They came, they grabbed the posters, hung them up at Sharples, dorms, the Science Center, everywhere.”
An engineering student, Joshua Vandervelde ’23, suggested creating mini Ukrainian flags — one for each of the 100-plus victims at the time — and distributing them around campus.
“I thought, ‘Let’s put stuff to help on there; let’s put an actual QR code with resources to help, so people can do something about it,’” says Zakharova. “Making those flags was kind of a big project — we had to print a big poster and then cut them up and then cut the sticks and glue them to the sticks. My friends [and I] helped in making it.”
Both the posters and flags have QR codes to a compilation of reliable news sources, donation sites, and petition links put together by Ukrainian students at American colleges.
Jillian Provaznik ’25, who runs a small bake-in business, offered to help Zakharova in her fundraising efforts with a cookie giveaway, which became the main fundraising event.
“[Jillian] offered to have a bake sale and fundraise for Ukraine,” says Zakharova. “She said she could bake cookies in her dorm kitchen. So what we did was we had volunteers like my friends coming in and helping me. We got ingredients, and we baked around 150 cookies.”
Around the same time, Olivia Medeiros-Sakimoto ’25, a burgeoning filmmaker, reached out to Zakharova to interview her for a film to raise awareness about the war.
“At first, she only did an interview with me to [create] a video to raise awareness, but then I told her about the cookie event, and she said ‘Oh, I’m going to come and take pictures,’” says Zakharova. “She made this beautiful video about Swarthmore’s efforts to fundraise; she included the posters in there, the cookies, a lot of info about what’s going on in Ukraine, and a lot of links about how you can help.”
The cookie giveaway held on March 2 was a success.
“We had a table in [the Science Center] and would offer people a cookie; all the cookies were packaged separately. Each tag had my Venmo on it and QR codes to help Ukraine,” explains Zakharova. “A lot of people grabbed a cookie, donated, or just spread the word. We only had four cookies left.”
Zakharova says the more than $4,000 raised from the Swarthmore community thus far was “more than we expected.”
Zakharova has received a wealth of additional support from the Swarthmore community in the forms of messages, donations, and volunteers.
“I was just comforted by all the messages when it happened, and all the support I got, and all the volunteers who helped me with the bake-in event and posters and little flags,” she adds. “I’m really glad that the Swarthmore understands that even being an ocean away, they can still make a big difference for a really important, urgent cause.”
There are many ways to help Ukraine that don’t involve donating money, Zakharova points out.
“There are so many clothing drives, volunteering opportunities, translators, and informational help that people could do that would be really appreciated,” says, Zakharova, who was encouraged by Swarthmore students’ eagerness to share information and resources on social media.
“A big part of this was how many people spread awareness, and just reposted the fundraiser and resources to help,” she explains. “So many Swarthmore students just kept sharing it on their social media, which might sound silly at first, but it makes such a great impact. I’m really grateful for that.”
Now that the most urgent needs in her hometown have been met, Zakharova is looking for new ways to fundraise by contacting other volunteers in Kryvyi Rih.
“There are no troops in my city; there are news reports of them going in the direction of my hometown, but they’re not there yet,” she says.
Zakharova urges the Swarthmore community to stay informed and keep raising awareness about the war.
“I would really appreciate it if people kept talking about it, because I know how easy it is sometimes to move on from shocking news, but I never moved on,” she says. “I just stayed there, and it feels like everybody just keeps going, but I’m still there.”