Enduring Friendships Transcend Borders: A Journey from William & Mary to Ukraine's Aid Efforts

In the heart of William & Mary, enduring friendships were forged that would last a lifetime among a group of friends who shared a passion for the Alma Mater of the Nation, studying abroad (three at Manchester UK and one aboard the SS Universe Explorer on Semester at Sea), and making the world a better place.

More than 20 years after graduation, these four friends (all of whom were alumni of the Raymond A. Mason School of Business) met up again in Richmond. Among them was Andrew Hamilton who now lives in Colorado, but comes back to “the Burg” regularly not only to visit the place where he spent his college years, but to visit his parents who recently retired in the area. He shared with us an update on an undertaking that surprised none of us who knew him well.

Enduring Friendships Transcend Borders: A Journey from William & Mary to Ukraine's Aid EffortsIn the fall of 2001, Hamilton was contemplating joining the Peace Corps. However, he was up for a teaching role and, as someone with a stutter, he wasn’t sure he would be suitable. Spurred by a determination to contribute to a better world, he submitted his Peace Corps application a week after the attacks of September 11, unwilling to let his personal qualms hold him back.

His destination was Ukraine, a country that would become his home for more than two years. Assigned to the Vinnytsia National Technical University, Andrew found himself not only navigating the challenges of a new culture and language but also conquering reservations about his own speech. Surrounded by warm and welcoming people, he discovered a profound connection with the community that extended beyond the classroom.

The first three months of Andrew’s Peace Corps service were spent in smaller Ukrainian towns,Andrew Hamilton (L); Andrei (far R) including Zvenyhorodka, where he lived with a host family and immersed himself in the local culture. A photograph from those early days captures the essence of the experience—new faces, new foods, and the beginnings of friendships that last to this day.

As Andrew settled into his role at Vinnytsia National Technical University, initial concerns about his stutter were reduced in the face of a receptive and supportive community. Ukrainian students, only slightly younger than himself, welcomed him with open arms. The challenges transformed into opportunities, and Andrew found that adjusting his lessons benefited his students immensely. Instead of relying on a traditional lecture format, he made his classes more interactive and won a Teacher of the Year award.

Andrew Hamilton and Jeff HartmanHis experiences, however, reached a crescendo during a visit to the border town of Mohyliv-Podil's'skyi, a place etched in his memory for its warmth, camaraderie, and an unforgettable feast that showcased the richness of Ukrainian cuisine. As his Peace Corps journey concluded, Andrew left Ukraine with a trove of memories, friendships, and a deep affection for a country that had become a second home.

Andrew kept in touch with his Ukrainian friends through social media and saw as they experienced joys and built families. However, the images of everyday life transformed in recent years when Russia invaded in February 2022. Faced with the stark reality that every Ukrainian had lost someone, Andrew felt compelled to act.

He connected with Peace Corps groupmate Jeff Hartman, the founder of Ukrainian Action aOksana 501c3 dedicated to helping the people of Ukraine, to initiate the Stay Warm fundraiser on Thanksgiving Day 2022. His goal was modest yet impactful: sending generators to Ukraine to help people endure the harsh winter. The response was overwhelming. As of November 2023, the fundraiser has raised over $13,000, delivering 11 generators and 4 power stations.

The photographs and videos Andrew has received from grateful recipients (visible on his LinkedIn page) serve as a testament to the tangible impact—homes heated, water heaters powered, and electricity provided to those in desperate need. His friends from his Peace Corps days, including Oksana and a priest named Andrei, played pivotal roles in the success of the initiative. Whether narrating videos or facilitating the customs process for generators, it became a collaborative effort driven by a shared commitment to make a difference.

Enduring Friendships Transcend Borders: A Journey from William & Mary to Ukraine's Aid EffortsIn sharing his story, Andrew hopes to humanize the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine. The fundraiser, demonstrates that anyone can alleviate suffering in the world, no matter how far they are geographically.

As Andrew continues his efforts, he invites others to join, reminding potential donors that no contribution is too small. And for those who resonate with the William & Mary spirit, leave a simple "Go Tribe!" in the donation comments.

As we enter the holiday season, Andrew says he is grateful to allEnduring Friendships Transcend Borders: A Journey from William & Mary to Ukraine's Aid Efforts of the donors who have made many lives a little easier during a time of war. These donations have helped ordinary people going through extraordinary times.

Amidst the darkness of war, enduring friendships have once again proven their power to change the world.