Georgia students decorate hallways in sunflowers for beloved custodian from Ukraine

COVINGTON, Ga. — Students and staff at a Newton County elementary school are coming together to make sure one of their own feels supported.

Lana Gazhenko has been working at Oak Hill Elementary School in Covington for 21 years.

She is an American citizen but from Ukraine and still has a lot of family over there. She has been going through a lot of heartache with the Russian invasion.

The school staff and students wanted Ms. Lana to know she isn’t alone. They surprised her by covering the school with sunflowers.

“I cannot talk. Just speechless and I start crying,” Lana told Channel 2′s Heather Catlin.

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Ms. Lana walked into the hallways of Oak Hill Elementary last week and was surprised to see hundreds of sunflowers. The sunflower is the Ukrainian national flower and also a symbol of unity and hope.

Another wall displayed the Ukrainian flag with a message of love written on it.

“Not just teachers, the kids, they come and give hugs and say ‘Ms. Lana I’m praying for you and your family.’ This is a lot to me,” Lana said.

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Third grade teacher Jennifer McDonald says Ms. Lana is loved by everyone. She told Catlin that showing support is also an important life lesson for their students.

“For the younger kids, we did focus on the empathy part of it because it’s sort of a heavy concept. But for the fifth graders, they can actually learn what’s going on over there.”

Catlin asked Ms. Lana what people can do to help. She made one request.

“Please pray. Because this is...only God can change this. It’s so crazy what’s going on over there,” she said.

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Lana has close to 30 family members still in Ukraine.

She says she couldn’t go through something like this without the amazing support from her co-workers and students: a community she calls her second family.

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