Bluefield, VA – A native of Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine, just north of Crimea, alumnus Yaroslav (Yaro) Hnatusko ’20 dreamed of one day coming to the United States. Hoping to play collegiate tennis and study in business, he was given the opportunity to pursue both at Bluefield University. Now amid war, Yaro has gone from serving on the tennis court to serving fellow Ukrainians in need.
Not allowing the English language to hinder him, Yaro worked hard to see his dream of coming to the U.S. fulfilled.
“I had to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) a total of 12 times,” shared Yaro. “I was enrolled in January 2017. What a journey from a dream to physically being in the U.S.”
Yaro pursued the challenge of learning and playing tennis in the U.S. and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in business management from Bluefield University in 2020.
“Yaro came to Bluefield with a hunger to learn and a passion for a challenge,” said David Hite, BU professor of business. “Through his years here, he got better with English, read every book I suggested, helped set up various student organizations and projects, and started working in our campus community.”
Currently an MBA student and graduate assistant in career services at East Tennessee State University (ETSU), Yaro is working to ensure those in his home country feel supported. On February 24, 2022, Yaro’s family evacuated their home after they were awakened by the sounds of explosive missiles.
Yaro and his brother, Stan, who is in Ukraine, are actively involved in a relief effort organized by Stan’s employer, a large manufacturing company. Located in Kharkiv, the company has converted its warehouse, corporate offices, and cafeteria into a shelter and foodbank for those who have been displaced.
Needing immediate aid to support the operations of the shelter, Yaro and Stan developed a donation website. On average, it takes over $10,000 in food supplies each day to feed 1,500 people, including those in the shelter and in the surrounding area. Since opening its doors, 160 people have taken full-time refuge with 40 volunteers who help with in-house shelter operations.
“The cooks in the kitchen are on shifts for 18-20 hours each day to prepare 3,500 meals,” said Yaro. “The second half of volunteers coordinate the food supplies from businesses all across Ukraine. They spend all day on the phone to make sure that the next day our residents will have enough food to eat. They are also taking care of having enough food for the people outside of our shelter who can’t come – policemen, firefighters, doctors, and soldiers.”
Most of the donations the shelter receives internally include flour, rice, pasta, water, medicine, clothes, and self-care items.
“What makes my eyes wet every day is seeing the results of donations and reading the reports sent from the leadership team,” shared Yaro. “One day of warehouse operations costs us $10,800 in food supplies each day.”
The company and its volunteers are now working to expand the shelter to house an additional 100 people.
Just a few months ago, Yaro was in a peaceful Ukraine, visiting with family and friends.
“It’s quite hard to see that my house is empty,” said Yaro, reflecting on his home now. “No people, no big family dinners, no watching movies together at night, and no landscaping projects in the backyard.”
Yaro shared that he is motivated by the people of Ukraine and their strength.
“What helps me never to stop is understanding how many people are dependent on help now and seek refuge,” he shared. “It is to say that I am using all my talents, if I have any, to deliver them out of chaos. If I have the opportunity to help, I will use it. No hesitation.”
Embodying BU’s mission of servant leadership, Yaro is serving others in his home country to help transform the world.
“A servant leader desires to live a life of significance and to make a difference in the lives of others,” said BU President David Olive. “And Yaro is doing just that…living out the mission of Bluefield University.”
“160 people we have now in a shelter know that they are not alone,” according to Yaro’s Facebook post on March 8. “I know that you made it possible for them to unite and keep their faith using our shelter! And the shelter is growing in one more basement level! It means we have a lot more work left and lot more donations to ask, but we know that everyone we have in a shelter now – is one large family. They are our family! And your family too!
To support Yaro and his family in these efforts, visit atlant-support.com
For more information, contact Rebecca Kasey, director of public relations at [email protected]