MINEOLA, Long Island (WABC) -- A 17-year-old student on Long Island is organizing a new high school program to help thousands of Ukrainian refugee children.
The young student, Jessica Vartanov, was surrounded by marines from the Toys for Tots program. She's getting ready fly to eastern Europe this week to help the young refugees.
The student's own family knows all too well what it's like to be refugees.
"Our hearts especially break for all the children who must now grow up in a world filled with violence and chaos," Jericho High School student Jessica Vartanov said.
Vartanov sounded nothing like a 17-year-old, and everything like an ambassador. This senior-to-be from Jericho High School described why she feels compelled to help the children of Ukraine with toys.
"So I wanna spread that joy to other kids, make them feel like normal children just once in their lives," Vartanov said.
She wants to make them feel normal, during a time when their world has been upside down for months.
"As of today, 348 children have been killed in Ukraine and over 650 wounded," said Serge Sklyrenko of the American Ukrainian Aid Foundation.
In conjunction with Nassau County, the U.S Marines, and Toys for Tots, whose chairman is a retired U.S. marine, Jessica Vartanov is about to go on a humanitarian mission to the border of Ukraine and Poland.
"You know, we always say, a new and unwrapped toy is a symbol of hope and these people in Ukraine need hope," said retired Major Chuck Kilbride of Toys for Tots.
Vartanov's dad emigrated from Georgia, in the former Soviet Union, and so did her mom's parents.
Now, Vartanov says she sees this as part of her duty to help.
Vartanov also tells Eyewitness News reporter Stacey Sager that she's launched another endeavor, teaching Ukrainian children who come here, how to speak English. So far, she's helped about 50 of them.
"I'm fluent in Russian, which is similar to Ukrainian," she said.
She says the best part is that the kids often just need a listener who understands them.
Vartanov's mom is viewing the next couple of weeks as yet another way for her daughter to step out of her Long Island comfort zone.
"But I think she will see certain things that she's never seen in her lifetime living on Long Island, but it'll be good for her," Jennifer Vartanov said.
Jessica Vartanov leaves on Sunday with her two grandfathers, and high hopes for the children.
"Soon they will have some happiness. Their light in the darkness," she said.
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