For 16-year-old Will Blum, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is personal.
That’s because Will’s ancestors immigrated to the United States from Russia and Ukraine, and it’s the reason why he is interested in the invasion.
“I don’t have any family in Ukraine or Russia, but for me, it’s still close to home, this thing that happened,” said Will, who attends The Bridge Academy at 1958-B Lawrenceville Road.
Will said he understands the conflict. The Ukrainian people are being killed for “not being their type” – Russian – just as Jews were killed for being Jews during the Holocaust, he said.
“There are no words for it,” said Will, who is Jewish.
Apostoli Pylaras, who also attends The Bridge Academy, also relates to the conflict between the two countries – but from a different perspective.
Apostoli, 17, has had first-hand contact with refugees who have been forced to flee from their home country. He met some Syrian refugees several years ago while on his annual visit to family on the small Greek island of Ikaria.
“One year that I was there, there were some people from Syria, mostly women and children. They literally had no bags, no shoes, just the clothes on their backs. We brought them to the park and my aunt gave them some cookies,” Apostoli said.
“There was a mother and her daughter and her son. They didn’t have any shoes. I didn’t understand it, how you could go to a country where you don’t know the language or where your next meal is going to come from,” he said.
“I could have done more to help them,” Apostoli said.
Looking back on that experience and his regrets for not having done more for the Syrian refugees was the motivation for Apostoli to join Will and the rest of his schoolmates to raise money to donate to UNICEF and Razom to help the Ukrainian refugees.
UNICEF (the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) and Razom, which is Ukrainian for “together,” are providing humanitarian aid to Ukrainians.
In the weeks since the conflict erupted between Russia and Ukraine, the 60 students at The Bridge Academy in Lawrenceville have raised $5,000 to donate to the two charities. The staff, through its Social House account, donated an additional $2,000, for a total of $7,000 to help refugees.
Sue Morris, the director of education at The Bridge Academy, said every dollar that has been raised is going directly to help children and families. UNICEF is already on the ground in Ukraine, she said.
“We have always tried to teach the children that in times of anxiety, they need to take action. For them to want to reach out to help is very much part of the school culture,” Morris said.
“The students understand that they have been helped to go to The Bridge Academy. Their parents advocated for them, so they have an obligation to help others,” Morris said. The school teaches students with learning differences.
That obligation to help others was on display March 18, as the students – led by staff members – left the school and walked on Lawrenceville Road/Route 206 in support of the Ukrainian people. They carried posters and a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag.
Motorists on Lawrenceville Road/Route 206 honked their car horns in support, and some even offered a thumbs-up. The driver of a cement mixer truck even waved at the children, who waved back.