Student-led Project Brings Light to Ukraine

Altamont School students encouraged young refugees with an impressive holiday project.

By Sean Flynt

Alexander, Akshay and their classmates prepare gifts for Ukrainian children who wrote letters to St. Nicholas as part of the St. Nicholas Project.

As the war in Ukraine enters a second year, geopolitics and tactical news sometimes obscure the war’s effect on individuals. Altamont School student Alexander Skowronski keeps a spotlight on young Ukrainian refugees as part of an ongoing project with the school’s C. Kyser Miree Ethical Leadership Center.

At the beginning of the war, Alexander organized virtual meetings between his Altamont peers and the displaced students. When Ukrainian physician Katia Zaharodnia proposed an idea to help Ukrainian children at Christmas, Alexander and fellow student Akshay Gaddamanugu accepted the challenge.

Putting a Plan into Action

Akshay observed that although “you can just send gifts to a war zone and call it a day,” he and Alexander wanted to make a more significant commitment by addressing the specific Christmas wishes of individual children. The pair solicited refugee children’s letters to Saint Nicholas, found translators, worked with Altamont Director of Advancement Stephanie Brooks to raise more than $4,000, bought the items the children requested, organized wrapping events, and 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 beloved tradition, Alexander and Akshay even worked with calligrapher Ira Mokrytska to create personalized notes for the children.

Anyone who experienced holiday delivery delays in the United States can appreciate the logistical feat and personal impact of completing the complex Saint Nicholas project. Thanks to the efforts of all the donors and volunteers, 70 children experienced an extra measure of kindness after their horrific experiences of war. “You brought our children not only the presents, but also you brought back their hope and childhood,” Ukrainian volunteer Daryna Viktorova wrote to Alexander.

St. Nicholas delivers the gifts that were purchased and wrapped at The Altamont School to refugee children in the Ukraine.

A Crash Course in Leadership

Alexander’s parents, Jan and Bozena, have been with their son at every step of what he described as a “crash course” in leadership. The whole family shared in the certificate of appreciation and medal recently presented to them by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and The Kharkiv National University of Internal Affairs for their ongoing humanitarian support for Ukraine via their Fortuna Clinical Foundation.

Miree Center projects are long-term commitments, and center director Beth Dille helps students understand the need for life balance and pacing in what can be a service marathon in addition to challenging academic schedules. Alexander understands that and said he will take the spring to listen and reflect and plan for how he will continue his support for Ukraine next year. He observed that the Saint Nicholas project honored the resilient spirit of Ukrainians and emphasized the power of individuals to affect the war through communication technology, so his next steps will continue to feature these themes. Consistent communication is essential to the success of his efforts, he said. That includes magnifying the voice of those he serves. As Daryna wrote to him after the Saint Nicholas project: “The greatest thing for us, Ukrainians, is to be loud. If we’ll be silent, we will be forgotten and then gone.”

About The Altamont School

The Altamont School is one of the nation’s premiere independent schools for students in grades 5-12. For 50 years, its rigorous academic requirements, leadership education, athletic opportunities and personalized college search program have given students outstanding preparation for higher education and professional leadership. One hundred percent of graduates are accepted into four-year colleges and universities. For more information, visit

Photographs courtesy of The Altamont School.


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