- There are more than 1,700 students from Ukraine studying at colleges and universities in the US
- Many are balancing studying abroad with organizing on campus to raise awareness about the war.
- Meanwhile, students are trying to figure out how to stay in the US on temporary protected status or if they can even return home to Ukraine.
Despite being thousands of miles away from the shelling in Ukraine, Marta Hulievska gets anxious when she hears loud sounds. The freshman at Dartmouth College is often thinking about her family de ella who fled the Russian military, her dad de ella who remains in their hometown de ella, and when she’ll be able to return home.
She’s afraid to go to sleep and miss news about her family.
“You kind of enter like this alternative world where you’re not in America and you’re not in Ukraine, you’re like somewhere in between,” she said, describing her experience as “second-hand PTSD.”
“And this just affects your mental health a lot.”
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Hulievska, 19, has continued studying medieval history and creative writing while fundraising and organizing rallies with the newly formed Ukrainian Student Association at Dartmouth in New Hampshire. It has helped distract herself from constantly checking the news.
Meanwhile, her mother, sisters and grandmother were forced to flee to western Ukraine from Zaporizhzhia when Russian military forces took over Europe’s largest nuclear plant. She worries about her father de ella, who stayed behind and has to keep the lights off after dark to protect himself from Russian troops targeting civilian areas. She said he is often awoken by the sound of sirens summoning him to bomb shelters – sometimes up to three times a night.
“There’s a lot of guilt involved too, you know. Why am I here in the safe place where they are not?” she said. “Sometimes, it’s like one step away from despair.”
Hulievska is one of hundreds of Ukrainian students living in the United States and anxiously awaiting news about friends and family who remain there amid the invasion. Many are balancing studying abroad with organizing on campus to raise awareness about the war. Unsure if they’ll be able to return to Ukraine when their programs end, many are trying to find ways to stay in the country longer.
“It is really hard to be going through a crisis in your country when you’re not in your country,” said Sarah Ilchman, co-president of the Institute of International Education, a nonprofit that helps students and scholars connect with international experiences. “Maybe there are people at home who were going to pay for their tuition and that’s not there anymore.”
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There are more than 1,700 students from Ukraine studying at colleges and universities in the US, according to a 2021 report from the institute.
The IIE has launched grants and scholarships – and is taking donations – to provide resources for Ukrainian students, threatened and displaced scholars, and student refugees, Ilchman said. On campuses, international student service offices are also facilitating emergency funding, helping connect Ukrainian students and offering mental health resources.
“That’s so critically important to support students holistically,” Ilchman said. “When they’re in crisis, you need to take care of all the needs not just the visa status or the academic or the financial, but obviously clearly also the emotional.”
Institutions are also helping students secure temporary protected status, which the Department of Homeland Security early this month extended to Ukrainians who have lived in the United States since March. The status will shield them from deportation for the next 18 months.
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Anastasiia Pereverten, 19, plans to apply for temporary protected status after she finishes the spring semester at the University of Wyoming where she is studying cultural studies. She wants to get a work permit to find an internship, since she’ll no longer have access to university housing or dining when the semester ends in May.
“I have no physical ability to get back home,” said Pereverten, a sophomore student from Kyiv. “For now, it’s the only plan I have because that’s basically the only choice you have.”
She has been afraid for her family, who are now in the suburbs of Kyiv in a “relatively safe place.” She has adjusted to her new reality by focusing on supporting them and her country, she said.
As the only Ukrainian student on campus, she’s organized a number of rallies and talks at her school. She’s also raised more than $1,000 to send to the Ukrainian army for ammunition and supplies.
“I’m trying to do my best in terms of supporting my country and my people and my family,” she said. “Their emotional state is now like high priority for me.”
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Like Pereverten, 16-year-old Yaryna Kholod is the only Ukrainian student living on campus at the Emma Willard School in New York. She arrived in September for a year abroad.
Kholod said the past few weeks have been difficult because her grandparents live in Mykolaiv, where shelling has recently damaged a cancer hospital and residential buildings.
Meanwhile, her 10-year-old sister, frightened by what sounded like an explosion at a nearby airport not long after the invasion, packed the family’s photo albums and fled with their mother to western Ukraine. Their father stayed behind and joined the territorial defense.
She said her school has been incredibly supportive. Kholod gave a speech offering advice for students and faculty on how they can support Ukraine and afterward her classmates created a large poster with messages of support.
“That was very sweet,” she said. “And I have been very positively surprised that after that a lot of community members have been reaching out to me.”
For Hanna Onyshchenko, a Ph.D. student studying economics at the University of Michigan, spending time with the other Ukrainian and Ukrainian American students helps her feel less alone.
She has been glued to the news, but her friends make sure she is taking breaks, going for walks and getting out in the sun, she said.
“It helps emotionally because you don’t need to say many words,” she said. “We help our friends to get their families out of the country just because we know each other.”
Onyshchenko spends half her days organizing to raise awareness about Ukraine and gathering aid for students who are struggling financially. The 28-year-old from Chernihiv, who has been attacked by Russian forces, is leading a petition asking her university to “publicly condemn the invasion and prioritize aid to Ukrainian scholars and students fleeing the conflict.”
University of Michigan’s president has since denounced the attacks and the school became one of several to announce it will start the process to end its current investments in Russia.
Onyshchenko said when she first arrived in the US in 2018, no one understood her concern that Russia might invade Ukraine after the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of the Donbas region.
Now that her fears have been validated, she’s frustrated at the lack of action from the international community and hopes the war won’t fade out of Western news cycles.
“My president asks for help, and the people in Europe still hesitate,” she said, her voice breaking. “You’re like, ‘here we go again, the same cycles.'”
She urged Americans to listen to the experiences of Ukrainians, warning of the dangerous effects of propaganda. Onyshchenko said her grandmother de ella, who moved to Russian in 2016, no longer speaks to her after watching Russian media. Russian President Vladimir Putin has criminalized the spread of information that counters the government’s narrative about the war, which the country refers to as a “special military operation.”
“I just want people to pay attention to history and to the experience that Ukrainians have in this war,” she said. “I believe in our army, I believe in people and believe that if there will be a call, I’ll also go back home and fight for Ukraine. We deserve to have our homes.”
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Contact Breaking News Reporter N’dea Yancey-Bragg at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @NdeaYanceyBragg