(Maia Dawson ’24 contributed to this article.)
“For me there are no more days of the week,” said Ukraine native Julia Kulchytska ‘24. “There is the first day of the war, there is the second. Today is day nine.”
Kulchytska spoke to a crowd that had gathered outside Usdan on March 4 for a rally in support of Ukraine. Among the students, one with tear-streaked cheeks behind a pair of cat-eye sunglasses were a group of faculty, staff, and residents of Middletown, and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal.
“Russian troops are coming expecting that Ukrainian people will greet them with flowers, but Ukrainian people greet them with Molotov cocktails,” Kulchytska continued. “It feels like 1984 for Russia and it feels like 1939 for Ukraine.”
Timosha White ’23, who has family in Russia, added that “the propaganda machine is strong. Media outlets have gone from foreign interest status to outright banned. There is no media except for a handful of telegram channels because telegram has yet to be banned.” His speech was impromptu, and he mentioned that he maybe would have changed out of the pink sweatpants that he wore if his appearance had been planned.
“It feels like there are two different planets that have no communication,” White said after describing the Facebook posts and Instagram stories he sees from people at home in Russia; one friend spoke on Facebook about their parents not letting them protest because of the possible charges being upgraded from administrative to felony.
After the speeches, the crowd walked a path together around College Row.
The girl in the cat-eye sunglasses walked at the front of the crowd, she shouted for them to be louder.
“Say no to war. Say no to war,” they chanted.
The Wesleyan Stands with Ukraine Rally for Solidarity was organized by Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Russian students, and was one of several events held last week to support Ukraine. More info and photos of the rally are online here.
Others events are below:
Conversations with Ukraine Journalists and Activists
Two weeks ago Ukrainian native Misha Iakovenko ‘17 was living a normal life, working as a risk strategist in Ireland. And then Russia made its move on his homelands. Iakovenko immediately went to the Russian Embassy where he encountered hundreds of fellow Ukrainians gathering to support one another.
While there, he received a call from his mother in Ukraine. A siren had gone off, notifying an urgent need to get to a bomb shelter.
“She’s there, alone. And I fell to the ground. I couldn’t get up…,” panelist Iakovenko recalled during a “Conversations with Ukraine” gathering featuring journalists and activists on March 4.
I needed to get closer to the border. My initial reaction was to try to get her out first. But when I arrived, she was adamant that she wasn’t going anywhere,” he said.
Although Iakovenko’s mother refused to leave her country, he knew he wanted to help in some way. So he took a leave from his job and is now in Warsaw, Poland helping with relief efforts.
Marta Pyvovarenko signed into the meeting from a well-lit building with white walls and many well-stocked bookshelves. She provided a narrated walk-through of her surroundings, and once translated, the audience learned she was in a library that was serving as a bomb shelter. Many refugees staying in the library, she explained, were singing to keep their spirits up.
Pyvovarenko, who also is working with relief efforts, is concerned about the lack of places to house the onslaught of refugees leaving Ukraine. “One of the biggest problems is to provide a shelter for people to spend their nights,” she said. “Most the places cannot accept people. A lot of busses come in straight from the railroad with [people looking to] spend their night.”
After brief introductions, event host Barry Chernoff, Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, asked the panelists, if they presented the opportunity, what they’d like to say to President Joe Biden.
Holding back tears, independent journalist Olga Guzhva pleaded for the President to stand up for Ukrainian citizens. She suggested the President protect the sky over her country and tax Russian-led businesses in the U.S. “How many kids, women should die? Do something to stop this. I know many stories that would make you cry,” she said.
Civic Environmental Advocate and Activist Inna Datsiuk said she’d look the President in the eyes and ask, “How is it possible?”
“Hundreds of people are dying, children among them. How it is possible? How is it possible to be silent? To not act? To not close our sky right now,” she said. “It’s hard to understand the things I’ve experienced and felt. I hear the sounds of war. When I’m scared, I am becoming paralyzed. Now I am in a safe place, but I keep checking on my friends, day by day, and I am dying inside. Time matters. Putin will not stop himself. It’s very clear. The third world war has started already. Please do something before it’s too late.”
Iakovenko credited the U.S. for already helping Ukraine, but warned it isn’t enough. He offered many suggestions, such as closing the sky over Ukraine—or at least the sky above nuclear power plants; sending military planes for the Ukrainian army to use; applying sanctions to affect the everyday Russian citizen; turning off their credit cards and Apple devices. Ultimately, this may get Russians talking. “Everyone will talk and ask questions. We need people inside Russia to talk to each other,” he said.
The panel also was featured on WTNH Channel 3 News.
The War in Ukraine through a Jewish Lens
On March 3, Wesleyan hosted an international conversation about Ukraine through a Jewish lens. Speakers included Igor Shchupak, director of the Museum of Jewish Memory and Holocaust in Ukraine and the Ukrainian Institute for Holocaust Studies; Kiev, Ukraine native Yana Rathman, who is actively involved in the Jewish community of the San Francisco Bay area; Katja Kolcio, associate professor of Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies; and Julia Kulchytska ’24, who has family in Lviv, Ukraine. The speakers discussed the crisis and ways to help the Ukrainian Jewish Community.
Kolcio, who also is professor of dance and director of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, became directly involved with Ukraine following the Revolution of Dignity there in 2014. Since then, she’d been leading somatic workshops with humanitarian volunteers, refugees, soldiers, and other victims of the war, as a method of healing.
Kolcio reminded the audience that the current conflict in Ukraine is actually a continuum of a war that’s been going on for seven years.
“More than 14,000 Ukrainian citizens have been killed during that time, so this is not a new war,” she said. “It’s an extreme escalation of a seven-year conflict. Ukraine has survived thanks to the civic vitality and determination of its people.”
A Conversations with Students in Ukraine
On Feb. 25, the Fries Center for Global Studies, College of the Environment, the Allbritton Center, and the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies Program kicked off a three-part series of international live-streamed conversations with students, journalists, and civic leaders in Ukraine. During the first event, a student panel, students at Wesleyan met over Zoom with Melaniya Podolyak, a civic activist and communications expert from Lviv, Ukraine, currently studying at the master’s program at the School of Public Management in Ukrainian Catholic University, and Oleksii Diatlov, a QA engineer in the state company Prozorro, Kiev, currently studying at the master’s program at the School of Public Management in Ukrainian Catholic University.
Event organizer Katja Kolcio hoped by bringing in students with first-hand experience of the recent Russian attack, it would combat some of the misinformation being spread by Russian President Vladimir Putin. “We will get to see (the Ukrainian students’) perseverance, the determination, and their incredible care and commitment to civil liberties and democracy,” Kolcio said.
Wesleyan President Michael Roth later published a Roth on Wesleyan blog about the event. “It was very powerful to hear [the students’] feelings of shock and dismay in the face of the brutal invasion by the Russian army, and it was inspiring to hear their courage and determination to fight back,” he wrote.
The third panel, held noon to 1 p.m. on March 11, will showcase Ukrainian civic leaders.
HISTORY TALKS: The Invasion of Ukraine: Why?
The History Department hosted a public History Matters talk on Feb. 28 titled “The Invasion of Ukraine: Why?” Victoria Smolkin, associate professor of history, and Alexander Brakel, visiting scholar of history, explored what led to the Russian attacks and why this invasion matters.
Smolkin, who is an expert on communism, religion in Russia, and the former Soviet Union, explained that during a public speech on Feb. 28, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that contemporary Ukraine is a result of a series of territorial “gifts” given by various Russian leaders — tsars, Lenin, Stalin, and Khrushchev — gifts that have been “squandered” by ungrateful Ukrainians.
A map, that was released by Russian media the same day as Putin’s talk, shows the territory of contemporary Ukraine composed of “gifts” and suggests that only the small yellow area on the map is true Ukrainian land.”[The map] puts forward a narrative that Ukraine’s territory isn’t its own, and fundamentally undermines its claims to independence and sovereignty,” Smolkin said.
Smolkin also discussed, in Meduza, the historical claims Putin made in his speech before invading Ukraine. “Fantasy is not history, and it’s not politics. One can lament—as Putin does—that Soviet politics was not ‘cleansed’ of the ‘odious’ and ‘utopian’ fancies ‘inspired by the revolution,’ which, in part, made possible the existence of contemporary Ukraine.” And in Politico, Smolkin explained how Russian soldiers may be feeling confusion and ambivalence, especially in their encounters with Ukrainian civilians.
“A key factor in understanding how Ukraine is still standing, then, is military morale, and especially the morale of the Russian army. Do they understand what they are fighting for? How long will they be willing to follow orders?,” she wrote.
Additional Support for Ukraine: