Ukrainian teen’s temp home in Town

This high school grad, as a senior in St. Paul, finds lots of help from a Farragut family

  • Oleksander Hodovanets, a Ukrainian teenager, visited a mural of Dolly Parton in Knoxville with the Skaalerud family of Farragut in June. Alongside are Skaalerud sisters, Elle, 10, and Ava, 13. - Photo courtesy of the Skaalerud family

  • Ukrainian teenager Oleksander “Sasha” Hodovanets, middle, joins Skaalerud family members at their Park Place subdivision home behind Farragut Town Hall. Surrounding Hodovanets, from left, are Alex Skaalerud; his daughter, Elle, 10; his wife, Whitney Skaalerud; and their daughter, Ava, 13. - Photo courtesy of the Skaalerud family

Thanks to a special connection, a 17-year-old Ukrainian teenager was welcomed into a Farragut family’s Park Place subdivision home in June after spending his senior year of high school in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Oleksander Hodovanets spent one month living with Alex and Whitney Skaalerud and their two daughters this summer, getting used to the Southeastern United States after being unable to go home, due to the war in Russia, to begin his college studies this fall.

His father, who along with Hodovanets’ grandmother remains in a safer location of Ukraine, “has worked with my wife’s international phone operator for many years,” Alex Skaalerud said. “Whitney and her other close co-worker in Chicago, Robert Musgrove, were struck by the tragedy and jumped to action to help (Oleksander).

“The immediate need was to provide a place to stay since his boarding at St Croix (Lutheran Academy in St. Paul) would come to an end on June 6,” Skaalerud added. “On June 6, he arrived in Knoxville.”

“It was my dream to go to the United States, like a tourist even, to watch all the things others told me about,” Hodovanets said during a Zoom interview. “... Now, two universities accepted me, and two colleges, also.

“And it’s like, wow,” he added. “About what I think of the U.S., it’s a country of opportunity. Even if you don’t know what you want to do, you can always meet some people” who will help, saying, “‘what can we get you? What can we help you (with) to find your way?’”

About his Farragut family, “They’ve really spent a lot of time helping me have a better future. … Shown me how to do things. ... They give me a place where I don’t worry, like where I can have rest,” he said about the Skaaleruds. “... My father found Whitney.”

Hodovanets’ family status

While his mother and sister escaped Ukraine and are in Spain, “I worry about, like my father and grandmother,” the teenager said. “I am happy for my mother and sister now. Every day I try to talk to them so I can understand what happened with them.”

Despite the relative safety in Spain, though, “it’s hard because it’s a lot of moving; they moved to Poland and then Germany,” Hodovanets said. “They still want to move to Portugal.”

In fact, his sister told him, “‘I want to just lay and do nothing.’ … And my mom, also, she (needs to) find some money, she (needs to) find a job.

“My father saw, like what happened to our city (Bucha) … after the bombing,” the teen added, as his father and grandmother were able to escape to the safer location in the Ukraine. “… He’s inspired me to do the right things.

“… I miss my father, I miss my mother, I miss my sister — and dogs; we have two dogs. And I miss my friends; a lot them are still in Ukraine.

“I worry about them all.”

About the war, with much of his home country being destroyed and thousands killed, “It’s hard to think about,” Hodovanets said.

United States/Farragut

Having visited the United States for the first time with his high school experience in St. Paul, “In Farragut it’s hot,” Hodovanets said with a smile.

“But also about Farragut, actually I like the landscape, how beautiful it is, and there is a lot of nature here,” he added.

As a rising high school senior in Ukraine, he applied to and was accepted — with a scholarship — to St. Croix for the 2021-22 school year. He graduated in May 2022.

College challenges

Originally expecting to go home after his senior year in high school in St. Paul, planning to attend a university in Ukraine, Hodovanets said when the war changed his plans, he was understandably late to apply to colleges or universities in the United States.

So he was scrambling with last-minute applications and other procedures, targeting the Chicago area.

Though solving that issue thanks to Hodovanets having a “stellar academic” record according to Skaalerud, “… they quickly found out that there was no financial aide available,” Alex said.

“Due to the fact that they had only months to prepare for this financially, whereas most have years to plan for this, it was decided to try ... a gofundme account ($45,000 goal),” he added.

“The support has been astonishing ($8,218 as of July 5).”

“I don’t have words for it — it’s amazing,” Hodovanets said about such funding generosity.

Moving to Chicago Wednesday, July 6, to enroll in his school of preference, the University of Illinois, Chicago, the teen added he would like, as a profession, something related to biological research.