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KU Community Discusses Russia-Ukraine

Ukrainian student and professor worry for their families stuck sheltering in place amid Russian invasion

By: Alyssa Wingo

Civilian areas continue to experience shelling while citizens arm themselves in defense of troops moving into major cities throughout Ukraine.

Russian forces captured the Ukrainian city of Kherson on Thursday, according to Ukrainian officials, making it the first major city to be overtaken in the latest of what has been a nearly week-long invasion of the region.

As the conflict escalates, Ukrainian students and professors at the university are watching from afar as their hometowns are being hit by missiles and occupied by Russian forces. 

With long lines to leave the country and troops stationed at the border, Ukrainians on campus are praying for their family members who are stuck sheltering in place.

Sophomore Mykola Hordiichuk’s entire family is sheltering in the city of Cherkasy, including his 13-year-old brother. His friends and family sent him videos of missiles striking nearby – one of them hitting his friend’s apartment building, but thankfully failing to detonate, he said.

“My cousin with my aunt – they live in Kyiv. She’s a nurse and they had to spend the last four days in the basement and, yeah, they didn’t shower,” Hordiichuk said. “There is nothing there. There is even no space to lay down. They have to sit and pray to be able to go home tomorrow and shower.”

Ukrainian-American Slavic Language and Literature Professor Vitaly Chernetsky is especially worried about his elderly father who is stuck in the city of Odesa, where shelling has been reported.

“It feels, of course, surreal. It’s very hard to work, and it’s very hard to concentrate,” Chernetsky said. “You keep checking on news and the internet, checking on family and friends to see if they’re okay, trying to find out the details.”

Visiting Political Science Professor Valery Dzutsati is a Russian native and expert in conflict in Eurasia and Eastern Europe. Russia will likely continue escalation despite many setbacks, even if it means the end of Putin’s empire, he said.

So far, the invasion has caused over 800,000 refugees to flee the country and over 2,000 civilians casualties. 

“It feels, of course, surreal. It’s very hard to work, and it’s very hard to concentrate. You keep checking on news and the internet, checking on family and friends to see if they’re okay, trying to find out the details.”

“If Russia backs down, that means the leader of Russia, the longtime leader of Russia, Vladimir Putin will have very hard time to explain the defeat to the Russian people,” Dzutsati said. “And, most likely, will have to step down – which obviously he doesn’t want to.”

Hordiichuk, Chernetsky and Dzutsati all had the same message: Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine has implications for the entire world. 

If Putin invades any countries that are members of NATO, there is a risk for World War III since other members of NATO would have to send military support, Dzutsati said.

“So, Ukraine is enormously important – enormously important for the future of Europe and for the future of the world in a way,” Dzutsati said.

Although this is a frightening reality for them, the Ukrainian community on campus is bading together to support each other and raise awareness. 

Hordiichuk and his Ukrainian friends from school attended a rally in protest of the invasion in Downtown Lawrence Sunday. Chernetsky and Hordiichuk both said they hope more events will be organized to continue to inform Lawrence about what is at stake.

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