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Iowans for Ukrainians to hold Sunflower Show, donate proceeds to Ukraine

Trevor Nelson
Members of the Cheremosh Ukrainian Dance Ensemble at the Sunflower Gala in Des Moines on Oct. 4th, 2022.

Amidst overseas turmoil, Ukrainians find support in the Midwest through efforts from local nonprofit Iowans for Ukrainians.

The nonprofit will host the Sunflower Show, a showcase of performances by the Cheremosh Ukrainian Dance Ensemble, at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Ames City Auditorium.

“It’s going to be kind of a cultural experience because it’s a traditional Ukrainian dance,” said Katie Seifert, one of seven board members and director of governance for Iowans for Ukrainians. “But then also attending is supporting a good cause because all the proceeds from this event go directly to our contacts in Ukraine, where we’re providing grassroots support to help Ukrainians and their families in the war against Russia.”

All proceeds from ticket sales go directly toward the nonprofit’s mission of funding projects in Ukraine, according to Seifert.

In the past, Iowans for Ukrainians, which is entirely volunteer-run, has funded care packages for the elderly, medicine and first-aid items, tools for the winterization of homes such as electric saws and portable gas burners, military supplies and more.

“It’s nice to do these big fundraisers in October because a lot of our funds last year around [this] time went to winterization because obviously, it gets very cold in Ukraine,” Seifert said. “Russia actively works to obliterate power sources, so families are without heat, and so that’s a good place for our funds to go.”

Last year, the nonprofit held a Sunflower Gala in Des Moines, which featured performances, dancers, lectures, art exhibitions, a silent auction and more.

Shalika Khindurangala, the founder and president of the Iowans for Ukrainians, said the gala brought in $20,000 in donations and took months of planning, sponsorships and fundraising.

The Cheremosh Ukrainian Dance Ensemble performed at last year’s gala and will be the main focus of the Sunflower Show.

“This year we wanted to bring the show to Ames, not Des Moines, and we wanted to showcase Ukrainian culture and celebrate it by inviting the dancers from Minneapolis, who are spectacular. They are so good at it,” Khindurangala said.

Anastasiia Prydius, a graduate student studying information systems and business analytics, came to Iowa State from Ukraine in 2022 and said she is still in touch with local Ukrainian volunteers and organizations.

“I lived all my life in Ukraine, and all my friends [and] relatives are there specifically in some region,” Prydius said.

Prydius said after the previous year’s gala, some of the funds raised went toward supporting the Kherson region of Ukraine, which she said is in a very difficult situation now after the explosion of a water dam.

“I’m in touch with my family, and every time they hear that the place I am right now is supportive and people are not forgetting about Ukraine, this is a huge support for them, even just emotionally,” Prydius said.

The sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine, which Seifert said is a recurring emblem of hope and resiliency throughout events hosted by Iowans for Ukrainians.

“At this point, I just really want to put forward to the community that we are looking to sell more tickets,” Khindurangala said. “I do want to feel the support of the community. I think that’s integral. This is a very difficult time not just for Ukraine, but for people all over the world.”

Khindurangala, who was born and raised in Ukraine, graduated from Iowa State in 2016 with a master’s degree in chemistry. Khindurangala’s parents moved from Ukraine to Ames at the beginning of February 2022 and have not been back home since the start of the war.

“Because I was the Ukrainian that people could get a hold of to talk about all of this, life was really difficult. Talking to people was very difficult, but we had to do it,” Khindurangala said. “I constantly had a feeling that I should be there, I should be helping, I should be doing more for the country and for the people.”

Khindurangala said she wants people to understand the things that are happening globally right now are connected.

“This tyranny happening, this unprecedented violence that’s in 2023 is happening, and we need to put an end to it, especially with our actions, our words, with our things that we say and do,” Khindurangala said. “Sometimes, it starts with the smallest thing, like going to an event and exposing yourself to different cultures and even understanding who are they and why are they being talked about—and I’m talking not just about my event, but any event.”

Tickets to the Sunflower Show are $25 for students with a student ID, $50 for adults and free for children under five years old. Khindurangala said tickets are also available to be purchased for a local Ukrainian.

“If a person is able to provide a ticket for themselves and for a Ukrainian, we encourage that. Then we find a Ukrainian who is not able to afford this ticket because a lot of people came here with nothing,” Khindurangala said.

Tickets and donations to the Sunflower Show can be purchased through the Iowans for Ukrainians website or at the Ames City Auditorium before the event.

“We do [these events] from the goodness of our heart because we believe in it, because we know that we have to do something,” Khindurangala said.

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