Garretson community helping support former foreign exchange student turned Ukrainian refugee

Published: Mar. 21, 2022 at 4:32 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Dakota News Now continues to share stories of the connection between Ukraine and South Dakota.

Among the chaos is a former Garretson foreign exchange student.

Svitlana Klymenko came to South Dakota from Ukraine and graduated from Garretson High School in 2001. The war in Eastern Europe has displaced her and her family, but the community is stepping up to help.

A fund has been set up in Svitlana’s name at First Bank and Trust in Garretson. The money will help her and her family get back on their feet as they deal with the harsh reality of war in their homeland.

As a foreign exchange student in Garretson, Svitlana made many connections in South Dakota.

One of which is Marissa Wollmann.

“Svitlana was a dear friend,” said Wollmann. “She became an instant part of the community of Garretson, it’s a small town so everyone kind of put their arms around her, and dug in, and was a surrogate family for her.”

Wollman has been corresponding with Svitlana since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“It’s kind of like anything, you care, you’re concerned, but then there was this message that she sent that really changed everything for me,” said Wollmann.

The message read: “Don’t you feel yourself like spectators of the Hunger Games? You support us and watch us die, all of the world. All of these days I have felt numb and in a state of shock, and now I’m angry and I can’t stop crying.”

Monday, Dakota News Now spoke with Svitlana over the phone.

“What I want to tell to American people is that they, and I mean Russians, really want to annihilate us as a nation and as a country, because what they do is ruthless, cruel, and inhuman,” said Svitlana.

Thankfully, Svitlana, her son, and her parents have made it out of the country, but her husband remains in Ukraine to fight.

Svitlana and her son escaped on an evacuation train with just a bag of food and two backpacks.

Since hearing this, Wollman and one of Svitlana’s former teachers have collected money from those willing to support her.

“She asked for nothing... I said, ‘come on now, I’m going to send you something.’ And she said, ‘I would like money because I could pay for, some of my Ukrainian friends who can’t get out, a place to sleep, and some help, and some food.’ And, I thought, ‘Wow, I can do that,’” said Wollmann.

The fund has gained traction within the Garretson community, and Svitlana is humbled by the outpouring of kindness.

“I’m so grateful, I just can’t imagine that so many people would be partial to me, take consideration, and take care of my life,” Svitlana said. “I’m really, really grateful.”

Svitlana says the support back in South Dakota is helping her get through each day.

“What is happening in Mariupol right now is literally my nightmare,” Svitlana said. “The worst thing I could imagine is happening to the people of Mariupol now and my heart breaks for them.”

Svitlana and her family are among the more than 3.3 million refugees that have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began.

If you’d like to donate to Svitlana’s fund you can scan the QR code below.

If you would rather donate directly through the bank account at First Bank & Trust in Garretson, make checks out to “Svitlana Klymenko” or Marissa Wollman.”

Svitlana's QR Code
Svitlana's QR Code(Dakota News Now)

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