‘Sold!’: MSMS Russian classes raise support for Ukraine through silent auction

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Courtesy Photo

Junior Daniel Caton and senior Jaeden Wesley consider the international items offered in the silent auction.

Madison Echols, Staff Writer

Since Russia’s devastating invasion of Ukraine began in late February, support for Ukraine galvanized across the world. In March, the MSMS community lent its support through a silent auction organized by Russian I, Russian II and Russian Club students that raised almost $1,700 earmarked for aid donations.

About 50 attendees bid on a myriad of goods and experiences with MSMS faculty to show their support for the war-torn country. The international souvenirs sold at the auction included beaded jewelry from Ukraine, colorful wool shawls and handmade wooden toys from Russia, a hand-painted ceramic bell from Poland and many others.

MSMS faculty members also personally donated goods. Music instructor Dawn Barham donated a guitar; science instructor Tina Gibson donated a handmade crochet blanket displaying sunflowers, the symbol of Ukraine; English instructor Thomas Richardson donated two copies of his book “How to Read;” and interim director Rick Smith offered to sew a custom-made bowtie. 

Experiences with faculty included teach-for-a-day opportunities in math instructor Lauren Zarandona’s classes, a horseback riding lesson with engineering instructor Danielle Grimes and a nature walk with science instructor Dr. Jason Palagi. 

Outside of the items up for auction, the event also sold goods at fixed prices, including homemade Pryaniki (spicy Russian cookies) made by Russian II student Avian Rose; Pirozhki (Russian meat pastries) made by language instructor Margaret Mary Henry; raffle tickets for a $50 Amazon gift card and a $50 gift card for Harvey’s.

The proceeds from the silent auction will be donated to Operation Ukraine, a Columbus-based non-profit that has been sending aid to Ukraine since the late ’90s. The local organization sends containers with everything from nonperishable foods to personal items a family might need to Ukraine.

The idea for the fundraiser came from Russian II student and Russian Club President Sydney Cooksey. Cooksey and fellow Russian II students Avian Rose and Vineeth Vanga were the event’s primary organizers. Cooksey proposed the idea right before spring break. The Russian students, along with the help of the Strings Club for background music brought on by Russian I student and violinist Elsa Pfrenger, put together the event in a little over two weeks. 

Cooksey spoke about the motivation behind the fundraising event and the message she and the other organizers wanted to convey.

“As we were watching the news updates on Ukraine in Russian II, my fellow classmate, Vineeth Vanga, shared how he wished we could show our support and actually have an impact. We really wanted to show others that anyone can have a hand in helping a cause with the right determination and support,” Cooksey said. “As the Russian Club, it is important for us to share that Russia is not just Putin. Though [Russia] is the aggressor in this situation, many Russians are risking their lives to protest the invasion and war. We want to shed light on the Russians standing with Ukraine.”

Henry, the Russian Club sponsor and instructor, felt that the fundraiser was successful overall, given the number of people in attendance and the amount of money raised for Ukraine relief.

“You always hope for a big turnout, but we realized that this was a super busy time of year. Although more people could have come, the ones who did come were generous indeed, and we are so grateful to them,” Henry said. “We were overjoyed and amazed when we realized that we had not only made our goal but gone beyond it. Sydney had set the goal at $1,500. We raised $1,684.41.”

Russian I student James Talamo said he was satisfied with the auction’s impact on its attendees.

“A good portion of the student body came out, if not to participate in the auction, to learn something about the Ukraine situation,” Talamo said. “I think the turnout exceeded my expectations, as I figured people would be uninterested during a weekend; however, the MSMS student body and faculty impressed me. I feel like the attendees walked away understanding more than they did before, which is all we could ask.”