Students across the United States, including many at the University of Michigan, are directly affected by the Russian army’s invasion of Ukraine. The Daily spoke with various students and faculty members about how the University is supporting students affected by the invasion of Ukraine and what can be improved in their current response.
Interim University President Mary Sue Coleman announced her support for Ukraine and Ukrainian students in an email sent to students Monday, almost two weeks after the invasion of Ukraine. Coleman condemned the invasion and mourned the lives lost.
“I condemn this invasion and the ruthless attack on freedom,” Coleman wrote in her email. “The grief, anger and hurt are devastating, and I feel such sorrow for the many members of our community whose loved ones and communities are in harm’s way.”
The email included a list of resources for Ukrainian students. Coleman shared information on temporary protected status (TPS) benefits and additional visa applications. Affected students will receive information about the additional benefits conferred by TPS from the U-M International Center.
“To support Ukrainian nationals currently living in the United States, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas designated the country to allow for Temporary Protected Status benefits for 18 months,” Coleman wrote. “U-M’s International Center will share information about TPS directly with Ukrainian students and scholars on F or J visas as soon as details on the application process become available. U-M supports advocacy efforts that would designate Ukraine for Special Student Relief for F1 visa holders to allow for greater flexibility with enrollment and employment.”
The email also included a list of organizations seeking assistance to address the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and a list of upcoming University events related to Ukraine and Russia.
College Republicans President Ryan Fisher said he has been surprised by the lack of support from the University.
“Weirdly enough, I haven’t gotten very many (emails about the conflict),” Fisher said. “I found that there is not very much noise going on on campus, or from the University administration regarding the Ukrainian situation relative to what there should be. This is a massive conflict and … there’s definitely some kind of potential for that sort of conflict to erupt. You would think that’s a pretty big deal — I certainly think it is, and I hope the University pays more attention to it in the coming weeks.”
The week of Feb. 28, Rackham student Hanna Onyshchenko –– with the help of Eugene Bondarenko, U-M professor of Slavic languages and Ukrainian culture, and a few peers –– penned an open letter calling on the Board of Regents to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Signed by over 700 students, faculty and staff members, the letter calls on the Regents to extend support to Ukrainians and community members affected by the conflict. The letter also asks the University to divert its investments away from “any non-humanitarian involvement with entities based in the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus.”
In an interview with The Daily, Onyshchenko said she was inspired by the letter of support released by MIT President L. Rafael Reif on Feb. 28, which details specific steps the institution is taking in response to the Russian government’s actions, such as the termination of the MIT Skoltech Program, a collaboration between MIT and the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Russia. Onyshchenko said she wanted to show the Board of Regents there were many U-M community members who wanted to see the University take similar actions.
“They didn’t just say that ‘we condemn the war,’ they took specific steps (such as) cutting down the (Skoltech) Program,” Onyshchenko said. “I wanted to show the Board of Regents that many people support this (cause), that it’s not (just) the voice of one small group of people. There are a lot of people who believe in what this letter says.”
Onyshchenko also discussed the importance of individual members of the U-M community publicly demonstrating their support for Ukraine and continuing to raise awareness about the invasion. She organized a vigil which will be held on Wednesday, March 9, to honor the Ukrainian lives lost in the invasion.
“We hope to hear back from (the administration) and if it doesn’t work, we will keep pushing,” Onyshchenko said. “There will be a vigil on Wednesday. We want to be present in public space. … We will direct our efforts to raise funds and to keep awareness in our community about the war.”
LSA freshman Ihor Pavlenko said his family left everything behind in Ukraine when fleeing the country, which has impacted his ability to pay tuition.
“I’m currently working on some financial aid from the University because the situation in Ukraine is insane…the business has stopped and there is no capital to work with,” Pavlenko said.
LSA senior Noah Streng, president of the U-M chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), also stressed the importance of financial assistance for students with family in Ukraine.
“Many Ukrainian students, such as myself, who have family within Ukraine, are facing a situation where their family members are being forced to relocate,” Streng said. “As someone who is working class, a lot of struggles occur when you have family members who are fleeing a war situation. It’s important for the University to maintain support for low-income Ukrainian students and all Ukrainian students and their family members.”
Fisher said he also supports financial aid efforts for Ukrainian students.
“It’s obviously a very pressing time period and I think people are starting to think about how they’re paying for this semester or next one, especially those on payment plans,” Fisher said. “The University should definitely look into being lenient on some of these payment systems for Ukrainian students.”
Streng said it is essential to utilize the University as a safe space for educating students about the invasion and its history.
“As a University, we have a dedication to the public to discuss these issues in a way which is educational and nuanced, and part of that includes educating the public on the historical context of why we are here in the first place,” Streng said. “That should include serious discussions of the long history of NATO’s imperialist actions across the world, which have spelled devastation for people all over the world. Ukraine is not the first instance of this, it won’t be the last, as well as the historical context of why Russia is currently being ruled by a right-wing, corporatist government. These instances did not come out of nowhere, but rather are the results of long histories of our actions, which have caused so much suffering across the world in causing the rise of reactionary governments and military actions, which end up hurting working class people everywhere.”
Sam, a student who has asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from the Russian state, said she worried that her status as a Russian citizen may affect her ability to obtain an education in the United States.
“I was very afraid, and I am still very afraid that with all those sanctions and visas being canceled, I might get sent out of the U.S.,” Sam said. “I’ve worked really hard to get in and at least live my dream and reach my goals, and it just feels so unfair that because of some stupid decision (made by the Kremlin), it might all just fall out of my hands, especially with bans on international transactions.”
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