Following Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine, senior Ukrainian international student Daria Konovalova felt a sense of responsibility to raise awareness on the availability of resources for her home country.
Konovalova and other international students have been steadfast in their efforts to coordinate and participate in various events for Ukraine that have been hosted at USF.
Despite her stress and anxiety in having to follow the struggles of her family and friends from the U.S., Konovalova said working on events with fellow Ukrainians has allowed her to find a sense of community away from home while also taking a stand of her own.
“Before the war started, we thought that there were only a few people at USF from Ukraine,” she said. “But then obviously when the war started, we became connected … We realized that we have a pretty big community here and that we could start doing events.”
Working alongside other students in finding information on humanitarian aid organizations, Konovalova has been spreading flyers around campus with lists of funds to donate to.
Her flier contains a variety of websites that link to donations for a variety of Ukrainian humanitarian relief funds, such as the Leleka Foundation, Razom, Come Back Alive and Army SOS Citizen’s Initiative.
Konovalova worked on a task force alongside fellow Ukrainian international student Ivan Cherniavskyi to aid the Student Government (SG) Senate in drafting a resolution for Ukraine.
SG Senate President Junayed Jahangir, Konovalova and Cherniavskyi designed a plan of action to encourage USF to provide additional resources for impacted students.
The main problems many Ukrainian students face include supporting themselves financially to follow the loss of their families’ income and managing the cost of tuition, according to Cherniavskyi.
“We posed the resolution so that students affected by the war know that they are safe here,” he
said. “Many students are treating USF like their second home right now … and we would like for [the university] to protect their interests and their futures, as they are in jeopardy right now.”
Though not involved in the drafting of the resolution, junior Ukrainian international student Lina Melnychuk said a major concern the university should consider for impacted students proceeding into the future is protecting students’ visa statuses.
“There is not a lot of means or specification about what type of visas [Ukrainian students] have, it is just that they are allowed to stay for one year,” she said. “If a Ukrainian student is graduating this semester and they are no longer a student, they don’t have any other places to stay … it’s a very strange situation for them.”
Ensuring resources were also guaranteed to Russian students was incredibly important to the Ukrainian students involved when creating the resolution, according to Jahangir.
“Despite being Ukrainian students and … being attacked by the Russian government, these students were not advocating only for the needs of themselves,” he said. “They advocated for the well-being of individuals affected by the war on both sides, simply because the infrastructure of [both countries] is in ruins.”
The resolution included a call to action for university administrations to condemn the war. It also requested extended services for impacted students, forgiveness of tuition payments and the use of the term “war” in future public statements.
SG’s resolution also focuses on the creation of a relief fund similar to the one formally outlined by the university. Donations made to it will help impacted international students with paying for everyday expenses, such as rent, utilities, transportation and other household necessities, according to the announcement.
The relief fund for international students in crisis was announced as part of a public statement made by USF on Feb. 25 to condemn the war and provide information on resources for impacted students and faculty.
For those experiencing psychological distress due to the conflict, the university advised students to reach out to the USF Counseling Center to speak to a licensed counselor. Faculty and staff were referred to seek support services through the USF Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
A group of university organizations, including the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Residential Education, the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement and the Counseling Center, collaborated to host a Community Circle Chat event for Ukraine on March 3.
During the meeting, Ukrainian students had the opportunity to talk to faculty and university leadership about their shared struggles as well as advocate for solutions to help alleviate stressors they face due to the war.
Leading the conversation was Ukrainian international student Maksym Rabinovych. He said for many Ukranian students present at the session, immigration services were a major concern. In addition, students requested financial help from the university, such as tuition relief, scholarships and grants.
Despite the attempts USF has made to raise awareness for Ukraine, linguistics graduate student Anastasiya Pylypenko criticized the university for its lack of provisions for impacted international students past general support services and a public statement.
“There’s so much more that we can do for Ukrainian students, but we haven’t collected humanitarian help or donations,” Pylypenko said. “As a Ukrainian student, I can tell you that if I have to research something provided by the university for 30 minutes to just find a little bit of information, we can’t expect a lot of students to do the same.”
In addition to correcting campuswide messaging so announcements about events for Ukraine are delivered more efficiently, Pylypenko said she would like to see the university implement better academic safety measures for international students distressed by the war.
“Considering Ukrainian mentality and culture, if students are very stressed and don’t sleep at night because they are following the news, they will not ask for an extension to a deadline because they feel that they must be strong,” she said.
“Students could say ‘I’m failing this because my parents were in a bomb shelter all night, I lost connection with them and I don’t know if they are alive.’ Obviously you care about studying, but these things are more relevant because your world is ending.”
Although people may question whether raising resources for Ukraine will truly make an impact, Ukrainian students appreciate efforts made by students and faculty to educate themselves on the adversity currently faced by their home country, according to Pylypenko.
Regardless of the contribution, she said she views action taken to support Ukraine by those in the U.S. as an essential form of empowerment for Ukrainians in their fight against Russia.
“I heard a Ukrainian phrase that ‘everyone’s fighting on their own front,’” she said. “No matter who you are, doing whatever you can to support Ukranians means that you are fighting to make [our] voices heard.”