On Sep. 6 2022, the New York Times published an article about a new scholarship created for Ukrainian university students called the Global Democracy Ambassador Scholarship. Global Democracy Ambassadors, sponsored by Ukrainian heritage celebrities Alexander Vindman, Gary Kasparov, Jose Andres and Daniel Lubetzky, brought 10 Ukrainian undergraduates to colleges in the United States to serve as ambassadors for Ukrainian democracy amidst the Russian invasion.
Of the ten, two came to the University of Connecticut as non-degree visiting students: Olha Polishchuk and Svitlana Kukharuk. Polishchuk is a second-year journalism student at the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, currently taking courses in film and theater. Kukharuk is a third-year law student from the National University of Ostroh Academy, focusing on courses in human rights and international law.
Kukharuk spoke with the Daily Campus about the program, as well as her own work in Ukraine helping at integration camps for refugee children and her internship at the Ukrainian Women Lawyers Association amidst the war in Ukraine.
“I only found out about the scholarship from social media in the fall, when we were doing school online. My friends studying abroad at the start of the war were worried that civilian life would collapse, but because of COVID a lot of universities were able to keep teaching us online. I had to send in two essays, pass an interview and take an English exam online. That one I took at three in the morning, because that was when Russian missiles would be least likely to strike and cut off my internet or electricity” Kukharuk said.
“I only found out about the scholarship from social media in the fall, when we were doing school online. My friends studying abroad at the start of the war were worried that civilian life would collapse, but because of COVID a lot of universities were able to keep teaching us online.”Svitlana Kukharuk, third-year law student from the National University of Ostroh Academy
She also mentioned that many people at her university also volunteered to provide aid for Ukraine, serving in territorial defense or on the front lines. One of them, Dmytro Kozatsky, became famous for his photography during the siege of Mariupol, when Ukrainian soldiers were surrounded inside of the Azovstal steel plant for months.
Kukharuk spoke in depth about her volunteer work, which she felt helped qualify her for the scholarship. In March 2022, she joined the European Solidarity Corps, an organization created to bring young people to help non-governmental organizations. Under this program, Kukharuk served as a teaching assistant for young Ukrainians who were put into schools in Poland, where individuals who could speak Ukrainian, Polish and English were desired to help the children integrate.
“We also worked on a summer camp, half Ukrainian children and half Polish children. We wanted to help integrate these kids into the host country. There were volunteers from Ukraine, others from Portugal, Mexico, Finland and Italy. It wasn’t easy work, but it made sure the kids felt welcomed in another country” Kukharuk said.
At the height of the refugee crisis in summer 2022, approximately 8 million Ukrainians refugees crossed over to Poland. As of March 2023, nearly all have returned to Ukraine or traveled to other countries, with 1.5 million remaining, according to The Conversation. 90 percent of adults seeking refuge have one or more children with them.
Kukharuk also took an internship at JurFem, the Ukrainian Women Lawyers Association. During this internship, she spent time at several educational events designed to help lawyers who work in cases of gender based sexual violence as a result of the war, including how to properly document evidence and testimonies for the International Criminal Court, which issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes of forceful transfer of Ukrainians in occupied territory last month.
“The idea is for us to become global ambassadors, share our perspectives on democracy to peers at university, educate others on the importance of democracy and inspire the world to stay engaged in our fight against authoritarianism.”Svitlana Kukharuk, third-year law student from the National University of Ostroh Academy
“The classes I have been taking at UConn are helping me expand my knowledge on this more, especially Genocide after the Second World War (HRTS 3207). I hope that not just Putin will face justice, but the Russians who attacked, kidnapped, raped and murdered Ukrainians of their own choice. Democracy is not something to take for granted and the Ukrainians who have suffered under the Russians are proof of this. I feel like that is a big part of why I am here – it is important for me to share the experiences of the Ukrainian people and their fight for democracy and freedom. This scholarship is to serve as a reminder of this and to bring our lessons here back to Ukraine,” Kukharuk said.
Kukharuk recalled her first protest, part of the EuroMaidan movement in 2014 against pro-Russian president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych. Her father had brought her and she attributes him to inspiring her to get into activism as an adult.
“He had a stroke a few months before the war, but soon after the invasion he would volunteer to collect scrap metal and other goods to support the people fighting the Russians. So despite the fact that it could not work as before, he, like many Ukrainians, tried to help the Ukrainian army in every way possible” Kukharuk said.
Kukharuk is thankful for the opportunity to spend time at UConn and has found it a valuable experience, discussing the war in Ukraine in her courses and working with the Ukrainian Student Association to host a Q&A panel on Feb. 24 to commemorate the ongoing Russian occupation and the first anniversary of the current invasion.
“The idea is for us to become global ambassadors, share our perspectives on democracy to peers at university, educate others on the importance of democracy and inspire the world to stay engaged in our fight against authoritarianism,” Kukharuk said.