One year after Russian invasion, Ukrainian students reflect on their experiences with the war 

On March 2, 2022, dozens of students joined the Ukrainian Student Association to show their support for the protest against the war waged by Russia. The protest held speeches and personal stories, including several told by students who passed by on their way to classes. Photo by Jayden Colon/Daily Campus

On Feb. 24, 2022, the Russian military invaded Ukraine from several directions, referred to at the time by the Russian government as a “three-day special military operation” in a speech Russian  President Vladimir Putin gave in response to claims of suppression and ethnic cleansing of Russian speakers from the country.  

It has been 362 days past the initial deadline 

“Ukrainian men, women and children showed unimaginable courage and tenacity in the defense of their homeland, standing their ground against an armed force considered to be larger, stronger and better organized than they were” said NPR in a special podcast episode on the anniversary of the invasion 

Over several months, initial Russian advances were ground to a halt. In some regions Ukrainian counterattacks managed to drive out the invaders.  

The toll of the war has had both material and human costs. Along with reports of equipment losses by government statements and independent accounts, the war has created the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees it is believed nearly 8 million Ukrainians have fled the country, the majority to neighboring countries such as Poland, Romania and Slovakia. Many millions more are displaced inside Ukraine, living far from their homes in occupied territory. 

Victoria Kostovr, the leader of the Ukrainian Student Association, led the speeches and events during the Ukraine protest on Fairfield Way on UConn Storrs campus. She encouraged students from the crowd to come up and speak about their own experiences. Photo by Jayden Colon/Daily Campus

An article from the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 3 estimates 30,000 Ukrainian and 60,000 Russian soldiers have died in the past year, with about triple the number of wounded. A report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Jan. 3 provides a total of nearly 7,000 Ukrainian civilians killed and 11,000 wounded since the invasion, with 188 killed in December of. 2022 alone. 

For Kateryna Koval, a fourth semester psychology major originally from Ukraine, the past year has been one of immense stress, panic and grief.  

“My grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends are still in Ukraine. Every time I get a notification about an air raid siren somewhere my heart stops. The city where I was born and spent most of my life got bombed over the summer. It was a different kind of pain. Seeing places I would see everyday destroyed, people I went to school with dead or asking for help. That day changed me,” Koval said. 

Kateryna continued, describing her inability to sleep or focus on work in the early months of the invasion as Russian forces continued their advances into her home country. 

A podcast from NPR on Feb. 18, reflecting on the organization’s own coverage of the war over the past year, told similar stories of despair and grief as fathers and sons had to stay behind to fight while women and children were left as refugees. In the early days, many of those interviewed by NPR appeared pessimistic or defeatist about their own country. 

Students lined the front of the Rowe building holding signs calling for support for Ukraine. Flyers, info sheets, and other handouts were passed out for those looking to show more support. Photo by by Sofia Sawchuk, Associate Photo Editor/Daily Campus

“Some Ukrainians did not feel President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government had the will to hold against the Russian invasion. A year later, he became a war hero both in Ukraine and abroad. Zelenskyy transformed and so did the nation,” NPR said. 

The UConn Ukrainian Student Association has spent much of the year raising awareness of the ongoing conflict, holding a rally on Fairfield Way in early March and fundraising by  selling blue and yellow pins, the colors of Ukraine, to raise money for the Hospitallers, a volunteer battalion in the Ukrainian military staffed by paramedics who help evacuate and care for wounded soldiers.  

Yusuf Zaidi, a sixth semester mathematics major, worked with Rescuers Without Borders in May 2022, spending time as a medical volunteer in the city of Lviv. 

Individual members of the USA have also done work at Ukrainian cultural centers and churches with fundraisers, or providing housing for relatives who have arrived in the United States as refugees.  

Stephania Korenovsky, a fourth semester healthcare management and global health major described how her family has sponsored several Ukrainians, including her aunt, uncle and cousin to live with them. 

Daniel Kloyzner, A UConn student from the protest crowd, joined the Ukrainian Student Association members to speak on his own family history and struggles with the current invasion of Ukraine. He spoke multiple times about the need for students to support other students and ignore Russian propaganda in the news. Photo by Jayden Colon/Daily Campus

“There are 9 people living in my single-level house right now … My mom and grandparents helped to start a donation drive out of my church in New Haven [St Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church]. What started as a donation drive, became a donation center for all those who want to donate anything they can to Ukraine in CT,” Korenovsky said.  

These acts of resilience, both by Ukrainians at home and abroad, have directly led to the vast quantities of aid, money and weapons sent to bolster Ukraine’s armed forces against Russia, such as Zelenskyy’s visit to the U.S. CongressAccording to Reuters, nearly $27.2 billion dollars of US aid and equipment has been sent to Ukraine since Feb. 2022. Afterwhich Poland, the United Kingdom, France, Canada and various European Union institutions followed, from data provided by the Kiel Institute for World Economy. Proportional to national GDP, the Baltic countries of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania have spent the most. 

On Feb. 20, NBC reported that Joe Biden had made a surprise visit to Kyiv, meeting with Volodymyr Zelenskyy and reaffirming American commitment to Ukraine in 2023.  

“‘Unchecked aggression is a threat to all of us,” Biden said. “One year later, Kyiv stands and Ukraine stands. Democracy stands, Americans stand with you, and the world stands with you.’” 

Students from the USA appreciate the aid provided by the United States towards Ukraine, but feel that more powerful equipment that Ukraine has repeatedly requested in aid should be shipped, including tanks and anti-air defense systems, which have been a hot-button issue compared to current shipments of missiles, firearms and artillery pieces. 

Mykhay Andriyashko, a member of the Ukrainian Student Association, holds a sign in protest for Ukraine on Fairfield Way on UConn Storrs Campus. He says he has family back home which is directly affected by the invasion currently happening by Russia. Photo by Jayden Colon/Daily Campus

Sofia Zazulak, an eighth semester molecular and cell biology major and president of the Ukranian Student Association, voiced their concerns about the support UConn provides to Ukrainian students and their organization. 

“We have had lots of difficulty getting funding for our events from the administration. Also, I feel as if there is not enough support for international students studying in Ukraine as a result of the war,” Zazulak said. 

“There is a pretty big population of Ukrainians on campus. They need help. It is very hard to focus on your academics while every time you close your eyes you see dead bodies and are afraid to wake up in the morning because you are scared of the news the new day will bring,” Kateryna added. 

Looking forward, the Ukrainian student population believes that Ukraine will triumph over Russia in this war, as do most Ukrainians and several high-level members of the US government. While the impacts of new factors such as Russian mobilization waves and the arrival of German armored vehicles cannot be determined, the past year has shown a country expected to collapse under the Russian invasion not only stand its ground, but prove their own capabilities. 

“’Your help and the resistance of the Ukrainian people will force Putin to withdraw,” Viktor Mykyta, the governor of the Zakarpattia region, said. “But even when Putin leaves, it may not save him. His crimes here will never be forgotten,’” Mykyta said in an interview with Fox

Leave a Reply