Wesleyan Community Connects with Civic Leaders in Ukraine

Olivia DrakeMarch 15, 20229min
ukraine talk
During the third Ukraine-Russia Crisis Livestream Conversation series event on March 11, Senator Chris Murphy, pictured at bottom right, shared the news that the United States will be sending $14 billion in funding to Ukraine. Other participants included, from top left, Svitlana Andrushchenko, Larissa Babij, Oleksandr Sanzhara, Barry Chernoff (host at Wesleyan), and Vira Protskykh.

Svitlana Andrushchenko left her home in Kyiv, Ukraine, due to the Russian invasion, but she refuses to be deemed a “refugee.”

“I call myself a temporarily removed person. I want [to be] back home and just be in my country. I want to live in peace in Ukraine,” Andrushchenko said during Wesleyan’s third Ukraine-Russia Crisis Livestream Conversation series event. “I am not scared for myself. I am scared for my children. Really, we are responsible for them.”

Andrushchenko, who is currently displaced in the western Ukraine city of Ivano Frankivsk, is nine hours from her home where she works as an associate professor at the Institute of International Relations at Kyiv Taras Shevchenko University and a director of the International Centre for Progressive Research. She was one of four panelists who spoke during the conversation on March 11. Forty students, faculty, and staff attended the panel in-person at the Fries Center for Global Studies, and another 100 attended virtually.

Panelist Vira Protskykh, a 26-year-old human rights activist, lived in Mariupol, Ukraine, her entire life, but now she has fled the city. She headed 600 miles north, and spends her days trying to contact family and friends who stayed back in Mariupol. She’s not been able to make contact with them in over a week.

Early on in the conversation, a blaring siren interrupted her talk. Calmly, she pardoned herself from the livestream. “We have [an] alarm of possible air raid, so I need to change place[s],” she said. Protskykh logged back into the gathering a few minutes later.

“Sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s true. It’s [like] some horror book, or those horrors that you read about—how people lived during the Second World War,” Protskykh said. “But it’s happening now in my life, in the middle of Europe, in the city that actually for the last five years made a big step to be more democratic.”

Oleksandr Sanzhara, secretary of the Dnipro City Council in Ukraine, explained how his job has drastically shifted since the Russian invasion. Normally, he’s working to “create a more beautiful city and improve infrastructure. But now, he’s overseeing the protection of Ukraine’s fourth-largest city and working directly with the Ukrainian army to provide the military with the necessary equipment.

“We are very, very grateful to our American and European friends, who have been helping us with support,” Sanzhara said through a translator. “We [need] everything from military weapons to protective gear for our soldiers, like helmets and bulletproof vests and other material support. And only with this continued help and support from our Western partners, will we be able to win this war.”

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy also joined the conversation, noting that the newly passed federal budget includes $14 billion to bolster military and humanitarian support in Ukraine.

“That money is going to start arriving on the ground very shortly to make sure that Ukraine has weapons [so the country can] continue to defend itself, [and to] make sure Ukraine has the food and the economic assistance and the refugee assistance to manage this crisis,” Senator Murphy said. “Our hearts are collectively breaking for Ukraine.”

Andrushchenko, who’s an expert in geopolitics and Ukrainian energy, stressed her fear of Russia gaining control of Ukraine’s nuclear power stations, which she says would be a “global catastrophe.” Power plants, she said, are a main target for the Russian army,

“We see that this is really war. This is an aggressive war against Ukraine and Europe and the world. So we need very quick replies on how to protect main nuclear power plants,” she said. “A no-fly [zone], that should be anticipated…. Think of something that we should be telling our senators to convince them to do.”

Members of the audience asked the panelists if places of worship have been destroyed by Russian troops; if evacuation corridors for civilians are blocked; what are their thoughts on creating no-fly zones; how can U.S. citizens support Ukraine; and would they want Ukraine to join Nato.

Protskykh suggested that Americans delve into Ukrainian culture and the country’s historical ties with Russia, especially through the lens of colonialism, post-colonialism, and imperialism. Ukraine’s culture, she said, is what Russians are seeking to destroy. “Then you may find answers to many, many questions about his invasion and why this is happening in such a bloody and cruel way,” she said.

Panelist Larissa Babij, a Connecticut native, has been living in Kyiv since 2005 where she works with Ukrainian contemporary artists as a curator and writer. She left the city last Thursday after Russian forces attacked Boryspil International Airport, an earshot away from where she was living. Now, she’s working with an organization that works to find medical supplies in Poland and Austria and get them transported to Ukraine where they are much needed.

There are many other ways U.S. citizens can help Ukraine, she said. Speaking to representatives in Congress, lobbying for assistance to Ukraine, being more politically active, or offering financial support are some solutions, but Babij suggests finding one’s own connection to what’s happening.

“I promise, the more you ask yourself, ‘what can you do,’ it will become clear because we need help on so many different levels,” she said. “[Can] I be a translator? Am I an activist? Find something that really connects with you. Whether it’s [being] more concerned about people who’ve lost their homes as a refugee…. Am I interested in military warfare? What’s happening in Ukraine is happening to all of us, and it may feel like it’s far away, but it’s happening to you too.”

The conversation with civic leaders was the third and final part of the Ukraine-Russia Crisis: Livestream Conversations series hosted at the Fries Center for Global Studies. On March 4, students and journalists gave personal accounts of their experience with the war in Ukraine. And on Feb. 25, the campus community connected with college students in Ukraine. Recordings of the three events are available online.

Co-sponsors of the event included the College of the Environment, the Fries Center for Global Studies, the Allbritton Center, and the Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies Program.

Before signing off to attend a press conference on the crisis in Ukraine, Senator Murphy lauded the Ukrainian guests for their patriotism.

“Obviously the American people have watched with awe and admiration as the Ukrainian people have stood up to defend their country from this brutal attack, and we are deeply thankful for what you have done to show what it looks like to fight for democracy,” he said.