A spaghetti dinner on March 20 benefitted the family of Sonya Voitenko, right, a Ukrainian exchange student on Ocracoke, N.C. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Connie Leinbach

It was Ukraine day on Ocracoke on Sunday as the Ocracoke community came out to support the fundraising efforts for Ukrainian exchange student Sonya Voitenko.

The scene was Jason’s Restaurant where concerned islanders quickly consumed 300 spaghetti dinners and a table full of baked goods and Ukrainian souvenirs to help raise funds for Sonya’s family, who is still sheltering outside of Sumy on the eastern edge of war-torn Ukraine.

Sonya and her Ocracoke host mother, Sonya Allen, wore traditional Ukrainian apparel and greeted the supporters.

“I’m really thankful for all of the volunteers and my parents are very grateful I am here,” Sonya said as the sale got underway.

Sonya, 16, who arrived last August via the government-run Future Leaders Exchange Program, is a junior at Ocracoke School since August and is expected to stay in the United States at least through the summer.

The fundraiser, organized by Sundae Horn, yielded $7,000, Sonya said.

“That’s absolutely amazing,” she said. “I’m endlessly grateful to the community!”

Of that amount, $400 will go to Sunflowers for Ukraine, which donates medical supplies, and the rest will go to Sonya’s parents and younger sister, with whom Sonya is in touch daily via video chat.

Lena O’Neal and Leslie Cole prepare spaghetti dinners. Photo: C. Leinbach

“My mom says that such a support will definitely lead Ukraine to the victory,” Sonya said, as the shelling by the Russian army enters its fourth deadly week.

Allen gave an update on the Voitenkos’ situation in Ukraine as Sonya, her classmates, teachers and staff helped serve the dinners.

“It changes daily,” Allen said, but she said the Voitenkos will be able to access the PayPal account since PayPal has opened up in Ukraine.

Ocracoke School Principal Leslie Cole ladled Jason’s homemade marinara sauce onto the cooked pasta.
“She is just delightful,” Cole said about Sonya, who has blended well into the school culture and participated in three sports: cross country, volleyball and basketball.

“Every sport she played in they went to states,” noted Lena O’Neal, who placed garlic toast into the containers.

“I’m just so sorry this (war) is happening,” Cole added.

As Jason stirred the vats of marinara and toasted the garlic bread, he said that he arrived at his normally closed restaurant at 6:45 that morning.

“We cooked 25 pounds of pasta and 35 gallons of sauce,” he said.

Parttime islander Greg Honeycutt acknowledged that Jason always steps up to the plate with these fundraisers.

“That we have a Ukrainian kid here in Ocracoke is amazing,” he said.

A number of community members donated baked goods: cookies in the shape and color of the Ukrainian flag and sunflowers, Ukrainian honey cakes, cupcakes, cake pops, brownies and more.

“We give a huge thanks to Jason,” Horn said. “This exceeded our expectations.”

Sonya Voitenko and Sonya Allen will be featured guests on “What’s Happening on Ocracoke” on WOVV, Ocracoke’s nonprofit community radio station, this Friday at 11:30 a.m. at 90.1 FM and online at wovv.org, or use the TuneIn App, radio.garden.

Donations for Sonya’s family can be made through PayPal at: Votenkosofiya2005@gmail.com, or send checks made out to Sonya Voitenko, P.O. Box 1512, Ocracoke, NC 27960.