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Ukrainian exchange student and her Minnesota host family start Ukraine awareness campaign

Dasha Shyroka and Emma Stuewe, along with Emma's mother Rhonda, are selling T-shirts and awareness ribbons in an effort to provide a visual reminder of what's going on in Ukraine.

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Emma Stuewe and Dasha Shyroka make ribbons as part of a campaign to raise awareness about what is going on in Ukraine.
Contributed photo
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ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — A Ukrainian foreign exchange student and her host family are spearheading an effort to raise awareness and support for her native country.

Dasha Shyroka and Emma Stuewe, along with Emma's mother Rhonda, are selling T-shirts and awareness ribbons to provide a visual reminder of what's going on in Ukraine.

"So many people can know about this and support Ukraine by wearing those T-shirts, so everyone can see it, and the ribbons, too," said Shyroka, 16, who comes from Poltava, a city in the central region of Ukraine.

The T-shirts come in black or gray, and have the words "Ukrainian Warrior Supporting the People" on them, and cost $25. The ribbons are yellow and blue and cost $3.

The money raised will be sent to Shepherd's Foundation in Isanti, Minnesota.

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"They've been working with Ukraine since 1990, and have been doing mission trips and stuff over there," Rhonda Stuewe said. "That's where the funds will go, because they are infusing it directly to the refugees right now."

Although the effort is still in its early stages, response to it has been positive.

"People have been really receptive and really wanting to support Dasha and Ukraine," Emma said.

"They didn't know how, so it's kind of what they can do right now," Shyroka said.

Another part of the effort is educating people about what's going on in Ukraine, conflicts that did not just start with the current invasion.

"Dasha, me and my mom were all talking to people about what was going on," Emma, 16, said. "I didn't even know prior to all this happening what was going on in Ukraine. It's about giving to them, and also about educating people about what's going on, because a lot of people don't know that there was conflict before."

"Many people didn't even know that Ukraine even exists," Dasha said. "Many people I was talking to when I first came here, I (would say), 'I'm from Ukraine,' and they were like, 'Oh, so you're from Russia.' Um, no."

The campaign started when the girls wanted to figure out a way to help the Ukrainian people.

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"Everybody's been sharing it with everyone (online)," Emma said. "We were talking with friends and family, and they want to share it with other people, too."

Shyroka has been taking orders at the high school, and Emma has been selling to friends.

"We're open to any partnerships and looking to match funds of any kind," Rhonda said. "We're looking to get as much money there as we can."

Rhonda added that for Shyroka, it's not so much about how many T-shirts and awareness ribbons are sold, but about the message.

"There's a personal side to it that I'm not sure we all recognize," Rhonda said. "We're fortunate that we have somebody right here in Alexandria that can carry the message and educate us."

Shyroka does not know when she will be able to return to Ukraine. She is in daily contact with her family and said they are doing well, although the local grocery store is getting emptier.

"Most people are trying to buy as much as they can," she said.

"Dasha moved into our home about a month ago," Rhonda said. "She was looking for a place to stay with the exchange program, and although we were aware as a family of the war going on, she's really put a personal touch on all the stuff going on over there."

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With the awareness effort, Shyroka, Emma and Rhonda all said they hope to spread that personal understanding.

"We're just happy to be able to help Ukraine and help Dasha with supporting and getting the word out, and educating people," Emma said. "The people there are really looking for support, and we're happy to help support them."

"It's all about the people," Shyroka said.

Any organization interested in partnering for matching funds can contact Rhonda Stuewe through Facebook Messenger or email muvado@muvadotherapy.com.

Orders may be placed at www.muvadotherapy.com .

Travis Gulbrandson covers several beats, including Osakis School Board and Osakis City Council, along with the Brandon-Evansville School Board. His focus will also be on crime and court news.
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