DES MOINES, Iowa — Kostiantyn “Koast” Tsymbal is a long way from home, but the Ukrainian exchange student is settling into Iowa by connecting with Des Moines’ homeless population through Joppa.
“I got involved a lot and just got addicted to this place,” said Tsymbal. “I just felt so good helping those people, and now I volunteer here constantly.”
Tsymbal only needed 30 hours of volunteer work to meet his educational requirements at Johnston High School, but Joppa CEO and co-founder Joe Stevens believes Tsymbal has spent about 200 hours serving food and supplies to people without homes.
The teenager arrived in Johnston last summer and only intended to stay in Iowa for one school year. Due to the war between Ukraine and Russia, he’s unable to go home. Tsymbal will finish his schooling while in Iowa.
“I called my mom right away and asked if everything is alright,” said Tsymbal, who further added that his family has now evacuated and is safe. “She said there was a bombing in my town.”
While Tsymbal hopes for his country’s survival, he now listens to stories of Iowans surviving on the street.
That included a man named David, who lives in a homeless camp near downtown Des Moines.
“There’s things I’ve been through I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and losing my wife and son is one of them,” David said. “You’re always going to have some homeless people. People need to learn to either accept it or provide places for us to go.”
Tsymbal said he’s going to continue his service with Joppa until he returns to Ukraine.
“I feel great that I can help somehow and be a friend for them,” Tsymbal said. “Try to help other people. Stop thinking only about yourself.”