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A ‘Deep Heaviness’: Students React to Russia-Ukraine Crisis

For Bozhena Kulchyckyj, a typical weekend as a Boston College senior right now is not spent in the Mods, but rather using her time to help fundraise and raise awareness for her country—Ukraine. 

“Parties seem so insignificant,” Kulchyckyj, CSOM ’22, said. “It feels so stupid just being there. At first, I spent every day crying, then there was a point where I … just [stopped] feeling sorry for myself … then I went into action mode in coming up with better ways to support the people of Ukraine.”

Countries across the world are levying sanctions against Russia as troops continue to pour into Ukraine and refugees flee into neighboring countries. While tensions have been escalating between Russia and Ukraine for years, the current crisis began when Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Esther Povh, MCAS ’22, said she was glued to her phone when the invasion started. Povh said she not only checked the news and social media, but also Herrd—an anonymous social media app popular among BC students—and was disappointed by the lack of sympathy.

“I found what I was seeing just a bit insensitive and tone deaf,” Povh said. “I think that this extends into the general BC population, where a lot of jokes are being made about World War III and how it’s almost sort of like a meme farm for using it as comedic material.”

Povh said she was born in Chicago, where her parents immigrated to, but most of her family members still reside in Ukraine and some could even be drafted.

“When I talked to [my father] about his fears of the conflict, his heart immediately goes to our cousin who is a draft age,” Povh said. “He’s put in this position where he either has to join the Soviet Army if Russia was to take over or be sent to camps.”

While Kulchyckyj was born in Delaware, both sides of her family are from Ukraine, and almost all of her relatives still live there. Kulchyckyj last visited Ukraine in the beginning of January to celebrate Ukrainian Christmas, she said.

“That was when Russia had been adding troops to the borders all around the country,” Kulchyckyj said. “So it was a little bit iffy, but in my mind it wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary.” 

Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and Kulchyckyj said she grew up hearing about the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. 

“Russia has been invading Ukraine since probably ’91 when the Soviet Union fell apart,” Kulchyckyj said. “What was scarier this time was that Russia put a bunch of troops on the border of Belarus, which means they could enter from the north, which they’ve never done before.”

Kulchyckyj said she has never been too worried about her family’s safety, as most of them live in the westernmost city and can evacuate easily. But now that some family members are evacuating, it feels “too real.”

“Three of my cousins are in Poland without their parents,” Kulchyckyj said. “My uncle stayed back to help my grandparents [who] didn’t want to leave. They didn’t want to leave the house they had built and lived in their whole life.”

Going about daily activities at BC has been challenging, according to both Kulchyckyj and Povh. 

“Everyone at BC is still posting about going out, and my mind has just been glued on this situation,” Kulchyckyj said. “It was my friend’s birthday the other day, but no part of me could post an Instagram story that would just misdirect people to any other form of entertainment.”

Members of BC’s Slavic Club rallied together to support Ukraine and Ukrainian students, collecting medical supplies to send to the country, according to the club’s Vice President Julia Swiatek.

“There’s a serious need for [medical supplies], as there’s a huge humanitarian crisis going on there right now,” Swiatek, MCAS ’22, said. “We will also be hosting a fundraiser for actual money to be donated to other humanitarian organizations that are on the ground in Ukraine.”

The Slavic Club also released a statement on Feb. 24 condemning the Russian government’s violent attacks against Ukraine. Club members wanted the BC community to know the club is there to provide a safe space, Swiatek said.

“We just wanted to offer support to any students in the BC community who had connections to Ukraine, as well as people affected by the war all over the world in general,” Swiatek said. “We felt it was our responsibility as a culture club, representing Ukraine among other cultures, to respond to the events.”

With strong connections to Ukraine, Povh said she struggled to keep it together the day everything unfolded.

“I had burst into tears throughout the day several times,” Povh said. “While calling family, there was just like this deep heaviness.”

The crisis has also impacted Kulchyckj’s and Povh’s academic lives. Kulchyckyj said she skipped three of her classes on Thursday. 

“I was watching the news all morning,” Kulchyckyj said. “People ask me, ‘How are you? How is your family?’ and my response is always ‘Good. They’re alive.’”

With midterms approaching, Povh said despite her stress surrounding the situation, there was work that simply needed to get done. 

“I needed to really isolate myself in a library and really get work done,” she said. “But then I had gotten a call from my brother, who was feeling really emotional, and so I had to leave my schoolwork and just spend time on the phone with him and just be supportive for one another.”

Swiatek said that students from neighboring countries also feel the impact of this crisis, as many have close ties to those in Ukraine. 

“I’m from Poland, which is neighboring Ukraine,” Swiatek said. “And personally, I do feel solidarity with Ukraine. I think a lot of Polish [students] would agree that we feel that we have each other’s backs and also feel really sincere sympathy for the people with closer ties to Ukraine.”

According to Povh, she feels disconnected from her family at an elite university across the ocean, but she said relying on the support of her peers has been key to coping with anxiety.

“I would like to add a message [toward] the BC student population just to check in on Ukrainian friends—a lot of us are separated from our communities right now,” Povh said. “And so my experience has been friends reaching out and asking how I’m doing. … It has been one of the most loving things that people can do.”

Featured Image By Ben Schultz / For The Heights

March 8, 2022