Brian Onuskanych, a first-grader at St. Lucy’s School for Visually Impaired Children in Philadelphia, has raised nearly $180 for the Ukrainian people, who are now entering the fourth month of a brutal Russian invasion. (Gina Christian)

A Catholic school student is helping the war-torn people of Ukraine, one dollar at a time, in what he calls his mission to “protect the world.”

Freshman Brian Onuskanych, who attends St. Lucy’s School for Visually Impaired Children in Philadelphia, recently raised nearly $180 from classmates, teachers and school staff, going door-to-door – and office-to-office – with a large plastic pretzel container over a two-week period earlier this month.

The money was added to funds already raised by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) in residence at Holy Innocents Parish, where St. Lucy’s School is currently located – one of three Archdiocesan Schools of Education special.

Saint Lucia Director and Sister IHM Lisa Lettiere said the combined donations will be sent to one of several approved charities supporting Ukraine, which is now entering its fourth month of Russian invasion that has killed thousands of people and displaced approximately 14 million people.

Archbishop Borys Gudziak, metropolitan for Ukrainian Catholics in the United States, said during a visit to Western Catholic Preparatory School last week that ‘some 200 young lives’, if not more, are now lost every day because of the war, which continues the Russian military attacks against Ukraine launched initially in 2014 with the attempted annexation of Crimea and the support of the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Onuskanych, who is of Ukrainian descent, was acutely aware of the impact of the conflict on children – and he came up with the fundraising idea directly from the top.

“Jesus whispered it in my ear. He said to me, ‘Brian, I want you to give money to Ukraine,’” Onuskanych said. “I told him it was a very good idea.”

The seven-year-old boy, however, admitted he was initially hesitant.

“I was like, ‘Am I going to say yes, or am I going to say no?'” Onuskanych said. “I will say yes.”

And he did it with enthusiasm, said Sister Lisa, whose great-grandfather was born in Kyiv.

As she greeted the students as they arrived one morning, Onuskanych told her he had “this really great idea,” with the goal of raising “a million dollars,” Sister Lisa said.

The seven-year-old was diligent in his approach – and thorough, she noted.

“There wasn’t an adult walking around here that he wouldn’t go to,” she said. “Every therapist that’s walked in here, the art teacher, the music teacher, the gym teacher, the orientation and mobility specialist, the speech therapist – everyone.”

With Sister Lisa’s permission, Onuskanych used the school PA system to rally her classmates as well.

“He was like, ‘Everyone, talk to your mom and dad and get some money,'” she recalled. “And a few times he praised (the students) for their response.”

Onuskanych said he wanted the funds to be used “to buy clothes, buy food and buy everything (Ukrainians) need to keep them safe”.

He has his own creative ideas for defending Ukraine.

When he’s not studying, Onuskanych imagines using “(a) plane to patrol Ukraine and protect the borders”, a plane that uses “special gravity forces that push Russia away… with a lot of wind and strength”.

Details of the machine remain confidential, he warned, as does his friendship with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“Don’t tell Zelensky that I know him, because it’s a top secret,” joked Onuskanych.

At the same time, the real power of peace lies not in weapons or high-level relationships, but in prayer, he said.

Onuskanych and his classmates “pray every day for Ukraine, and the boys and girls who are not in school like us,” he said.

They also “pray for the Russian people” as well as for their president, Vladimir Putin, who directly ordered the invasions of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022 after years of openly denying his sovereignty.

“We pray that God will soften his heart,” Sister Lisa said.

As the war enters its fourth month, Onuskanych said he is keeping tabs on the Eternal.

“In heaven there are many mansions, many mansions. And there is no death, no pain, no colds, no headaches, no sprained ankles and the animals are friendly,” he said. “And there are no wars…none of that bad stuff. One day the whole world will be there with Jesus…we hope.