A Montgomery ISD family hosting 16-year-old Anya Arseienko, a foreign exchange student from Ukraine attending Lake Creek High School, is leading an effort to raise funds for Arseienko’s family, who is trying to flee Ukraine to safety.

Nicole Boniface said she and her husband, Brian Boniface, took in Arseienko in late December, although Arseienko has been attending MISD since the beginning of the school year. The couple has two daughters, who attend Lake Creek High School and Oak Hills Junior High School, Nicole Boniface said in an interview with Community Impact Newspaper.

“My husband was a foreign exchange student himself very briefly in France when he was in high school, so he was very open to it,” Nicole Boniface said.

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine began Feb. 24, Nicole Boniface said she fielded calls from family and friends wondering how they could help Arseienko and her family members in Ukraine, who lived in an apartment in Kyiv, the capital city, and are now fleeing to Poland.

“My family and our friends kept reaching out to me once Russia invaded Ukraine. We kept getting the same question: ‘What can we do to help? How can we help? We love Anya; what can we do to support her family?’” Nicole Boniface said.

As such, she said the couple launched a fundraiser on the Give, Send, Go platform late Feb. 26 with Arseienko and her family’s approval. With an initial goal of raising $10,000 for Arseienko’s family, the goal was met within hours.

“Everybody has rallied around her and supported her; it’s just been overwhelmingly wonderful,” Nicole Boniface said.

As of late Feb. 28, more than $20,000 had been raised for the family to help with expenses when fleeing the country and hopefully re-establishing their lives in the U.S., Nicole Boniface said. Donations are still being collected.

“We can’t quantify how much money her family will need, but I know it goes far beyond that [$10,000]—plane tickets, travel expenses, getting them set up in an apartment,” Nicole said. “They 100% want to try to get to the United States if they can. That’s their goal right now. ... That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Nicole Boniface said Arseienko is able to occasionally communicate with her family as timing lines up, as Ukraine is on about an eight-hour time difference. Her mother, father, younger sister, grandmother, great-grandmother and family dog are fleeing Ukraine.

“Logistically, they’re doing everything they can to get the mom, the sister, the grandma and great-grandma to Poland, and then once the dad does that, he’ll have to stay back in the Ukraine,” Nicole Boniface said. “Now we’re trying to figure out the next step. ... We’ve never experienced this before, so we’re not 100% sure what to do next, so we’re just taking it one step at a time.”

All Ukrainian men 16 to 60 years old must stay in the country to fight, so Arseienko’s father is not allowed to leave, ABC 13 reported.

"I can't think he won't come," Arseienko said in an interview with ABC 13. "It's impossible. My mind doesn't realize he can't come."

Nicole Boniface said Arseienko’s plans previously included a flight home to Ukraine on June 4 after the school year wraps up.

“We are definitely under the assumption that that’s not happening,” Nicole Boniface said.

While at Lake Creek High School, Nicole Boniface said Arseienko is involved with the student council.

To show support for Arseienko and her family, the Lake Creek High School and Oak Hills Junior High School communities will be dressing in yellow and blue March 1, Nicole Boniface said.

“Anya’s so excited about that. Just having her school community rallying around her in that aspect is more meaningful to her than I think anybody even realizes,” she said. “This tragedy that she’s dealing with, she’s taking it probably a lot better than I would. She’s handling it so graciously.”

Alison Rice, the student council adviser at Lake Creek High School, said after the Russian invasion began, she and a history teacher arranged for Arseienko to speak to student council members and a government class.

“The kids love her so much. They kept saying, ‘How can we help her?” Rice said in an interview with Community Impact Newspaper. “We had 60 kids in that room, and they were totally silent, and we listened to Anya talk.”

She said students have been eager to learn from Arseienko and show their support.

“In high school, most of the time these [conflicts] don’t really affect [students] in any way; it’s just something that’s happening far away, and we can continue on with whatever’s going on on Snapchat or whatever, so it’s very interesting to see how much [students] want to know and ask,” Rice said. “I feel like they know more about [the invasion] than they ever would if we didn’t have Anya there. ... It’s really made something global that doesn’t normally impact a high schooler—it’s brought it home for them a lot more.”