UIW students support Ukrainians

March 31, 2022 –   The UIW community is standing behind Ukrainian students and staff as they face challenges brought on by war in their home country.

Vladyslav Chumak is one of many Ukrainians living here in the United States. He’s in Boston working on his post-graduate, but he says his heart is home in Ukraine, where tragedy continues to strike.

“My friend who I used to swim with for two years, he joined the military in 2017 or 2018 I guess, just by his own, like he always wanted to join,” said Chumak. “And they got the news today that he was killed in the fight today. So yeah. This was like the beginning of my morning, so as you can see it’s my reality, every Ukrainian reality right now.”

According to the U.N. Human Rights Office, approximately 1,200 civilians have been killed so far. For Ukrainians watching from the outside, the stress of trying to keep in touch with friends and family members has taken a toll. 

“I think the first three, four days were the most stressful for me, and it was not just about my parents or my family. It’s the fact that I’m realizing my whole country’s on fire now,” shared Chumak.

UIW’s diving and swim coach, Andrii Nikishenko, said the situation is frustrating. He says he’s barely slept since the invasion began.

“I still have like my full family, it’s like about eight, 10 members of my family. And um, try to keep connection with them every single hour, every single minute,” said Nikishenko. “It’s very difficult time, because I can not help to my family to protect them and protect my home country. But at the same time I’m so proud, I’m so proud to be Ukrainian in the moment.”

According to Chumak, even those who are able to escape the violence may soon not have homes to return to. Homes, businesses, and towns are being laid to waste by Russian attacks. One such area facing destruction is the border city of Kharkiv.

“Kharkiv is a very like sensitive topic for me, because I spent like three years of my life and it definitely was one of my best years for me in my life, because it was the very beginning of my student life. I barely turned 18 when I moved to Kharkiv,” shared Chumak. “And now unfortunately they almost like grounded Kharkiv into the Earth. The downtown now looks… there is no downtown anymore. It’s just bad. It’s so bad.”

UIW’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) is one of many organizations on campus who have stepped up to help Ukrainian students and staff. They partnered with the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS)  to open an international student emergency fund. This fund would offer financial aid to Ukrainian students, many of whom are cut-off from their support system back home, to help pay for tuition or housing.

“We’re a family here at UIW and we’re one so we just gotta take care of one another,” shared Warren Fulgenzi, vice president of the SAAC. “Some of us may have never gone through this in our lifetime, but student athletes are going through this, students are going through this, and just be mindful, just be caring. And just be an open ear to listen to and be a shoulder to cry on, because it’s a touchy, touchy thing going on right now.” 

SAAC and ISSS were able to raise $1,568 for the international student emergency fund. 

Fraternity group Alpha Phi Omega also hosted an event on campus in support of Ukraine. They offered juices in the Westgate Circle with QR codes to donate to Jeremiah’s Hope. 

“Jeremiah’s Hope is a campsite and rescue shelter for at-risk and orphan children located in the small village of Koleksi,” said Skyler Burnett with Alpha Phi Omega. “So we have a QR code  that goes directly to the Jeremiah’s Hope website where you can donate.”

That website can be reached at https://www.jeremiahshope.org/ukraine-crisis-response.html.          

Despite the circumstances, many Ukrainians refuse to give up hope. 

“Whenever I think of my poor Kharkiv, do you know what I’m always saying to myself? When everything finished, I will fly to Ukraine by myself, like to all my friends, and we will rebuild Kharkiv together. To the most like, to the most beautiful condition of the Kharkiv as it can be possibly be. And maybe even impossible.”