International students gather in protest of Russia’s war on Ukraine
Although it normally stands as a symbol of pride, Ukrainian international student Ivan Cherniavskyi’s vyshyvanka, a traditional shirt, was spotted with fake blood at Tuesday’s demonstration for the war. He said it was intended to represent the civilian deaths that have occurred since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“At least 816 Ukrainian civilians died and more than 1,000 have been injured during the war, which is horrifying,” Cherniavskyi said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from… international issues right now are not only between Russia and Ukraine. Only together as one international community can we stop this.”
Six other students alongside Cherniavskyi were dressed in costumes representative of the struggles of those on different sides of the war, such as soldiers and refugees. They stood in front of the Tampa library from 12:30-3:30 p.m. holding signs with QR codes linking to various humanitarian aid organizations.
Cherniavskyi, who assisted in organizing the protest, said the intention was to provide international students a platform to bring attention to the injustices occurring in Ukraine. He hopes hearing Ukrainian voices will inspire action from students who might not be directly exposed to the war.
“As international students, there is not a lot that we can do right now … we can only educate people and hope that spreading awareness causes them to do something,” Cherniavskyi said. “However, this is a real problem in the hands of American citizens. They have legislative power in their hands and can really make a difference, so we are here to encourage them.”
Although the war has been publicized as a conflict between Russia and Ukraine, its effects are something that will threaten the stability of the greater international community without further help, according to Ukrainian international student Danylo Solomentsev.
Joining Cherniavskyi was his wife, Yuliana Tretyakova. As a Russian international student, she said it’s important to convey the adversity faced by Russian citizens that attempt to support Ukraine.
“I’m horrified because of what my country is doing to Ukraine … we have been neighbors for centuries,” Tretyakova said.
“In Russia, you can barely say anything right now. You can’t even use the words ‘war’ or ‘invasion’ … I’m here in the United States where my voice can be heard, so I’m just here to express my support.”
Attempts to speak out against the Russian government or its actions in promoting the war are considered treason and can be punished with up to 20 years in prison, according to Tretyakova.
By interacting with the protest, she said she hopes students will continue to remember the importance of educating themselves on the war and ways to help victims.
“Here in America, you are so far away and it’s really easy to forget what’s going on,” she said. “We just don’t want people to forget about the war in Ukraine, and that people are dying and suffering every single day.”
Ukrainian international student Daria Konovalova wore a costume resembling a pregnant woman. She said her costume was intended to represent pregnant civilians and pay respect to the victims of the Russian bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol on March 9.
Assessing the scale of the tragedies that have been inflicted upon the Ukrainian people, Konovalova said it’s important to not overlook vulnerable populations when considering donations.
“We’re here today to show how many people in Ukraine have suffered, such as children, refugees, pregnant ladies and elderly people,” she said. “We want to show that there are places that people can donate to and help if they want, but most importantly, we want to spread awareness so that people know what’s going on.”
Siblings and Ukrainian students Maksym and Yelyzaveta Rabinovych aided Cherniavskyi in organizing the event. In addition to Tuesday’s protest, they said students and faculty should look forward to more events in the future.
“If you know about [the war], that’s already good,” Maksym said. “If you spread resources to your friends, it’s already better. The more people that donate, the closer we are to finishing this war.”
While the protest may have seemed small in magnitude to those passing by, Solomentsev said he hopes that exposing students to what is happening in his home country will help them understand the reality of the problem that the U.S. would face if Russia succeeded in its invasion.
“I want people to understand that this issue is not only about Ukraine and Russia themselves, it is about everyone,” Solomentsev said. “From my perspective, now is the turning point for the history of my country … Saving Ukraine is saving Europe, and saving Europe is saving the world as well.”
To support Ukrainian non-profit organizations in supplying necessary medical equipment and other humanitarian resources to victims, Cherniavskyi recommended people visit Razom and the Leleka Foundation for more information.
Konovalova recommended people visit UNICEF for Ukraine for more information to support non-profit organizations in Ukraine supplying humanitarian aid to children and families.