Just hours before playing the NCAA final national championship with the Drexel women’s squash team, Alina Bushma heard the news of Russia invading her home country on Feb. 25.
Bushma, a Ukrainian international student, is from the capital city of Kyiv, where her parents and grandparents still live.
“I opened up my phone and go on Instagram and I see all my friends’ stories about what’s going on, what to do, pictures of bombings, all of this, and I’m like, ‘What the hell?’” Bushma recalls. “When [the issue] is close to you, you open the phone and you are like, ‘Is that the house that was next to my parent’s house? Is it my friend’s house hit by a missile?’”
Having just visited Ukraine in December, Bushma was in disbelief and shock when she found out about the Russian invasion.
“I was so lucky to come [home] right before the war started. When I was there, everything was normal,” Bushma said. “I remember a lot of American friends were sending me these articles, like ‘Oh my god, Russia is gathering troops next to the Ukrainian borders,’ and I was like—I don’t know. It all doesn’t seem real.”
Nearly four months have passed since Russian president Vladimir Putin initiated the first invasion attack on Ukraine since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Yet, Ukrainian students on campus still feel the reality of this crisis even as news and social media coverage of the war has slowly dwindled.
Lera Nasedkina, a Ukrainian student who used to live in Kyiv, also reflected on the initial chaos when Russia first invaded.
“At the beginning, Russia was aiming a lot of missiles at the capital and they were trying to take the capital but it didn’t work out for them,” said Nasedkina. “My family lives in Kyiv and they moved out for a little to the countryside to be safer, but as it’s been more quiet they moved back now.”
In addition to being worried about her family, Nasedkina also had to keep up with her classes and responsibilities as a member of Drexel’s swim and diving team, which eventually took a toll on her mental health and wellbeing.
“The end of the [winter] term was absolutely awful in comparison to previous terms. A lot of things happening all at once, and a lot of things happening with school, swimming, Ukraine, just adding up to everything,” Nasedkina recalled. “Plus it was going on at the end of term with examinations. Mentally for me, not a great experience, but I’m doing better now.”
Both Bushma and Nasedkina acknowledged how helpful their Drexel athletic teams were in the wake of the crisis by providing support, resources, and solidarity for the Ukrainian students on campus.
“I was glad I had my team there,” Bushma recalled. “I had my coaches by my side and I’m so grateful for them. They were not…asking me too many questions, and asking me about if I needed my own space for that time.”
Mariia, who preferred not to share her last name, is a pre-junior Russian international student who has also witnessed the effects of the war on her family in Russia.
“When the war just started, I was afraid that I would lose communication with them,” said Mariia. “We use video calls to talk and we thought that the Russian government might restrict the internet and I won’t be able to reach my family. Fortunately, this didn’t happen, and I am still able to call them.”
Mariia also claimed that Russian people are tired of the war, and most ordinary people have nothing to gain from it.
“A lot of people who are against the war are afraid to speak up because they can get arrested for voicing this opinion. It’s harder to come across them, so it might seem like there are few of them,” Mariia said. “People who are for the war are louder, but they just repeat the propaganda that was fed to them through the TV and newspapers.”
As the invasion unfolded, affecting the lives of millions, many people have spent time trying to come to terms with the reasons behind the war, and what prompted such a dramatic invasion of Ukraine.
Lloyd Ackert—a professor in the university’s history department and the director of the master’s program in science, technology and society—has his own explanations and theories. Having studied abroad in Russia at St. Petersburg University and conducted research at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Ackert lived in Russia as the Soviet Union fell apart in the 1990s and became the country we know now.
Ackert argued that the current conflict in Ukraine has to do a lot with modern-day imperialism which is deeply rooted in the region’s history, in combination with the increasing influence of NATO.
“On the one hand it’s an attack by proxy war on us, the United States, specifically because, in [Putin’s] view, we are the ones who destroyed the Soviet Union that he loved and wants to bring back to some extent,” Ackert argued, explaining how the conflict relates with modern-day imperialism which is deeply rooted in the region’s history, in combination with the increasing influence of NATO. “To grab control of natural resources and to push Ukraine out of a very lucrative market that is basically Russia’s main economic source, natural resources built off of petroleum and mining.”
In addition to the human suffering, mass displacement, and violence happening in Ukraine, Ackert also noted the damage the war has caused for the environment and the country’s basic infrastructure.
“There’s nothing more damaging than war,” he said. “The kind of warfare that’s going on is breaking down really important infrastructure. It’s poisoning fields, whether they’re using chemical warfare, or just all the oil that they’re using to run the materials, and poisonous weapons that just lay in the field, so you could think about it, just as a disaster.”
With the Russian invasion becoming a full-on war, members from all over the Drexel community showed their solidarity with the Ukrainian community by sharing mental health resources, hosting events or donating money to nonprofits.
On Feb. 24, President John Fry sent out a university-wide statement standing in solidarity with Drexel’s Ukrainian community.
“As colleagues and friends, we offer our full support to all members of our community — including all Ukrainian Americans, expats, and nationals — who are experiencing physical or emotional distress,” Fry stated.
Just days later, on Feb. 28, members of the Drexel and University of Pennsylvania community organized a solidarity march as a way for students and community members alike to express their concerns about the crisis, as well as encourage people to take action in whatever way they can.
Student organizations across campus have offered support in various ways, from organizing events to raising awareness to encouraging donations to nonprofits and charities raising money for basic supplies.
One example is Drexel’s International Students Union (ISU), which offered support for the Ukrainian community on campus by releasing the following statement on their social media: “The International Students Union joins the fellow Drexel community in condemning war, imperialism, and all acts of violence against innocent civilian lives. The recent events that have taken place in Ukraine have surely impacted students from the respective region and ISU stands in comradery and offers support to students within the Drexel community who have been impacted.”
According to incoming ISU President Mark El Moujabber, the organization helped put together a Talent Show Fundraiser for Ukraine on April 7 in collaboration with Campus Engagement and The Office of Student Life, with all proceeds going to nonprofit organization Razom for Ukraine, which provides humanitarian relief in the form of medicine and supplies.
With the war becoming just another part of our daily news, Ukrainian students like Bushma and Nasedkina urge Drexel community members to continue fighting the injustices occurring.
“I think it’s just important to keep talking about what’s going on in Ukraine… There is still war, there are still people dying. There’s still missiles to this day and shooting, cities are still destroyed…” urged Bushma. “Keep talking about it, donate if you can, spreading and talking about this with your friends can even make a difference.”
“I want people to know that it’s unfortunately far from over. I know that things like this come as a trend almost, and people just forget about this. Already a lot of people tend to forget, and it’s still going on,” said Nasedkina. “It’s not over. And Russia keeps surprising us. I just want people to know that the truth is there, and the truth will win.”