Ukrainian exchange student raises money for her country

CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS — From left to right, Alli Johnson, Liza Yaryshkina and Brock Johnson. Yaryshkina is a Ukrainian exchange student and is currently living in Waukee with her host parents, the Johnsons. Alli is a Marshalltown native and MHS graduate.

With the war between Russia and Ukraine raging, people all over the world are doing whatever they can to help the Ukrainian people. Fundraising has been a go to for individuals looking to help, and for Liza Yaryshkina, a 16-year-old foreign exchange student from Ukraine, it’s one of the best ways she can help her people.

Yaryshkina, who came to Iowa through the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX), is currently living in Waukee with host parents Alli and Brock Johnson and attending Waukee High School. Alli, a Marshalltown High School alumni, is the daughter of local business owners Tom and Mary Curley.

Yaryshkina’s mother and brother were able to escape the conflict, but her father remains in Ukraine. To show her support for both her country and her father, she saw the FLEX program’s end of year project as an opportunity to give back to her home community by coming up with a fundraiser.

She and two other foreign exchange students — Aisha Kademova from Kazakhstan and Bakai Tolundo from Kyrgyzstan — got together to brainstorm some ideas to raise money. Eventually, they settled on selling T-shirts.

“They had a bunch of ideas but the T-shirt thing is what really took off,” Alli Johnson said.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO From left to right, Olga, Liza, Roman and Dyma Yaryshkina. Liza’s mother and brother, Olga and Dyma, have been safely evacuated from Ukraine, but Liza’s father Roman remains in the country. Liza is raising money to donate to the Kyiv Maternity Hospital.

They were able to partner with Mike Draper, who owns the Des Moines printing, design and clothing company Raygun, to make the idea a reality. Johnson said the fact that Draper helped them design the T-shirts and is printing them at no initial cost solidified the idea.

“Mike has been exceptional to work with. He basically sat down with the kids and designed four different T-shirts and said ‘We’ll take on the expense. You guys just sell them and we’ll figure out the dollars and the cents later.’ So right now he’s not charging them anything,” Johnson said.

After they sell all the shirts, they plan on paying Raygun back for the materials and donating the profits to the Kyiv Maternity Hospital that was tragically bombed. The doctor who delivered Yaryshkina actually works at that hospital.

They started selling the shirts about two weeks ago, and Alli Johnson said Yaryshkina was amazed at how popular it’s been.

“I think it’s gotten a lot more attention than she thought she ever would for this, so she’s a little taken aback by that but she’s really liking it,” Alli Johnson said. “It makes you feel like a proud parent. That’s really all there is to it. She’s doing a great job, her and her friends.”

The shirts are being sold at Tannin Wine Bar in Marshalltown, which is owned by the Curleys, as well as on Raygun’s website at https://www.rayguncustom.com/collections/students-united-for-ukraine. Alli Johnson said they were also looking into setting up booths at the Hy-Vees in Ankeny and Waukee to sell the T-shirts as well, though they are still ironing out the details.


Contact Susanna Meyer at 641-753-6611 or smeyer@timesrepublican.com


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