UNICEF project helps Ukrainian teens to stamp out allergies

A small team of teenagers from Ukraine are bringing their local community together in an effort to ease people's allergies.

Yulia Silina, Kate Bond
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UNICEF
24 December 2020

As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on our lives, three teenagers from Ukraine have declared war on another respiratory nightmare – allergies.

The group are determined to stamp out one in particular – ragweed, a flowering plant that is one of the most aggressive allergens in the world.

“A lot of ragweed grows in our schoolyard,” says 15-year-old Sabina. “In autumn, I had to give up physical exercise classes outside because my eyes began to water, my nose was running and it got difficult to breathe.”

The teens were one of five winners of this year’s UPSHIFT Ukraine project, run by UNICEF, which aims to build skills and opportunities for young people.

With the help of a mentor and funding, their ‘AmbroSTOPia’ team decided to replace the ragweed in their city of Kupiansk, Kharkiv, with seasonal flowers.

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UNICEF

“We conducted a survey in our city and it turned out that about 40 per cent residents are allergic to ragweed,” explains Sabina. "But this is not only a problem for allergy sufferers – if there is a lot of pollen in the air, anyone can feel like a zombie. But there is a way out.”

Finding a way forward

After struggling with her own allergies, Sabina asked her school for help. But she was horrified when they suggested mowing the ragweed.

“I was very indignant, because you cannot mow ragweed, as it causes the seeds to sow even faster," she says. “The principal told me that the school couldn’t help anything else. And I decided that I can do it.”

Sabina teamed up with friends Andrii and Karina, and applied for the UPSHIFT project.

“I was very proud of the application we made. And I was really looking forward to the results of the competition. Of course, we had a seed of doubt, but also much more hope that we would make it through.”

To their delight, the team won UAH 55,000, which they used to buy garden tools, grass seeds and flowers. They also hired a designer who designed a logo and their social networking accounts.

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UNICEF

They plan to free Kupiansk of ragweed in several stages. To begin with, local residents will be able to volunteer to clean the land of weeds and replace it with grass. Then they will sell flower seeds to through their social networks in order to raise money to buy a cultivator for the city.

Bringing the city together

Together with volunteers, the team has already carried out three workshops on planting grass that will prevent ragweed from growing again and protect the city during the flowering period.

“We have cleared 500 square meters of ragweed,” says Andrii, 15. "You need to plant grass seeds. It has a very strong root system that will prevent ragweed from growing again. We sow it in the places where there are no cultivated plants.”

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UNICEF

During their clean-up operations, the teenagers have handed out gloves, masks and hand sanitizer to volunteers so that they can work safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were very pleased that people began to learn about our initiative and support us,” says Sabina, smiling proudly. “Residents of different ages – from grandmothers to their grandchildren – come to the community cleanups.”

The team are preparing to sell flower seeds in bags marked ‘Wonder seeds’. Each bag will cost UAH 45.

As well as helping to improve quality of life for residents of Kupiansk, Sabina says she has also learned some valuable skills.

“The experience of working with UNICEF is very exciting. I learned to work with people, become more patient, learned to hear criticism, listen to the advice of the mentor and the team, and find a way out of stressful situations.”

UNICEF