As a war rages on in their home country, Ukrainian students try to re-adjust.
“Everyone should care about Ukraine, it’s a problem that affects the whole world,” says Anna Tymoshenko, one of two first-year Ukrainian students attending Pacific University. She goes on, “It’s not okay to do those things. Everybody should know, nobody should forget.” Tymoshenko had a radiant smile for much of our interview, but at this her face grew somber. Tymoshenko is majoring in computer science. She hails from Cherkasy in central Ukraine.
We are sitting outside on the UC patio on a warm evening. Daria Tsybina sits with us. She is from Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and also started college at Pacific this fall, and is majoring in psychology.
Seven months ago, Russian troops invaded Ukraine. The country broke free from the Soviet Union more than 30 years ago, but with its geographic access to ports and to Europe, Russia has maintained a keen interest in re-establishing control over the country. When Vladimir Putin returned to presidency in 2012, he flexed Russia’s military muscles and took the valued Crimean Peninsula from the Ukraine—and, ever since, has been poised to invade the rest of the country. This February, Russians troops did just that.
Fleeing from bombings and attacks, more than 14 million Ukrainians have left the country over the past seven months; one-quarter of the country’s population—or, stated differently, as if every person living in Oregon and Washington up and left their homes since Valentine’s Day. Many have fled to nearby or neighboring countries like the Czech Republic and Poland. Air strikes and ground invasions from Russian troops have been relentless ever since—and, last Friday, United Nations investigators confirmed what many already believed, that Russians troops have committed numerous war crimes, including attacks against children and other civilians.
“When I left for the Czech Republic,” explains Tsybina, “five months after the war [started] and before getting here, I tried to forget because when I remembered or talked about this… I can’t take it… I close up and cry. That’s why I try not to talk about it because it touches me.”
Finding Scholarships to a University Far, Far Away
When military attacks by Russia pushed into Ukraine last spring, most schools from elementary to universities closed their doors; with the practice of COVID, some schools went on-line. But daily life was—and continues to be—so disrupted throughout the country that going to school, let alone the store for food or to a regular job, remains near impossible. Millions fled from daily bombings and from tanks rolling through main streets, but most men stayed; in an attempt to withstand the Russian invasion, the country’s president Volodymyr Zelensky declared martial law, and all Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 were forbidden from leaving, and pressed into military service, a population that includes many teenagers who otherwise might be starting or attending college.
Tymoshenko recalled having to accept the slim opportunities for getting sponsored to study abroad, resigning herself to staying in Ukraine. Tsyibna agreed: “I always wanted to study abroad, but I couldn’t afford it. When the war started, I moved to the Czech Republic, and I wanted to study there, but I had to learn a new language from level zero, it was kindof impossible…and I had to pay.”
Many universities around the world are offering scholarships and help with study abroad applications to help students like Tsybina and Tymoshenko continue their studies away from the war; Pacific University is one of those institutions.
Tsybina and Tymoshenko said College of Arts & Sciences Dean Sarah Philips was instrumental in raising scholarships to pay for the rest of their tuition on top of the Founders Scholarships.
At Pacific, Tymoshenko and Tsybina have made friends and feel supported. “People here are really nice,” says Tsybina. “Everyone is trying to help and understand us.”
And, Tymoshenko happily reports, “Everybody is so supportive, and they are very happy to answer your questions and they always have time to talk to you for even a couple of minutes. I really appreciate that. I feel like I need that here.”
Even so, leaving home, arriving in America and starting college in Oregon has been an adjustment. “I was happy that I have [Daria] here,” says Tymoshenko. “I wasn’t used to all the trees here; they are so huge. I’ve never seen such big trees.” She continues, “I wasn’t expecting the sizes of everything; the cars, the dishes, everything is bigger here.”
She adds, “also, the people surprised me. Everybody is so polite and happy to see you. Everybody is open to talk here.”
Family Homes Back In Ukraine
During our interview, talking about their homes was obviously difficult. Before the war, Tsybina’s family had just finished renovating a house, and was moving out of their old Kyiv apartment. “I was pretty excited about that,” she said, “because I bought stuff to decorate it with. But when the war started we left.” Her nine-year old brother, her mom, and stepdad are still in Ukraine. She is able to text and call them often, but the 10 hour time zone difference makes it difficult.
When the war started, Tymoshenko’s family had to move out of their house. They lived in Cherkasy, a centuries old river-side town; low-key, but dotted with beaches. Located in central Ukraine, the city had been not seen the same intensity of fighting, but in June, missiles struck the city, destroying an apartment building and bridge.
“We had a small house, but I still liked it. It was so cozy,” said Tymoshenko. “Cherkasy is really not a big city but it was comfortable.” She talks with her eleven-year old brother, mom, and grandparents on late-night video calls.
Talking with other Pacific students, Tsybina was shocked to hear that some thought that the war had ended because they didn’t see it on the news anymore. “It’s disappointing,” she said. “It is still going on even if it isn’t all over the news. It made me sad. I understand that it is just another war in the world that will go longer than expected because no actions will be taken because of this,” said Tsybina.
But for Tsybina and Tymoshenko, forgetting about the war in Ukraine isn’t an option.
“I want to forget about the explosions and all the sounds of planes flying above my head. Planes here fly very low and it reminds me all the time of all those things,” explained Tymoshenko.
If you are interested in researching opportunities to help students from Ukraine and other areas in need through scholarships and grants, please contact Heidi Wright (firstname.lastname@example.org) to coordinate efforts. — Christian Guerra