On Sunday, murmurs of grief turned into a rallying cry of defiance as UB community members gathered to express solidarity with Ukraine in the Student Union.
Gregory Hawuczyk, a senior pharmaceutical sciences major, stood at the head of the SU lobby as the people around him held cardboard signs reading “I stand with Ukraine,” “Putin #1 Terrorist in the WORLD” and “Russian warship, go f—k yourself.”
“Slava Ukraini!” Hawuczyk shouted.
“Heroiam slava!” the crowd responded.
The words “Glory to Ukraine, glory to the heroes” have come to symbolize resistance and universal solidarity with Ukrainians affected by Russia’s invasion since it began on Thursday.
Hawuczyk is the president of Friends of Ukraine, a student organization representing the Ukrainian community and promoting its culture at UB.
In the wake of the unfolding crisis, the organization hosted an event in the SU lobby Sunday afternoon to elevate Ukrainian voices on campus and to gather signatures for petitions and pre-written letters to U.S. government officials.
These petitions and letters ask U.S. lawmakers and NATO to take firmer action against Russia, including banning SWIFT, a network that allows banks to transfer money between branches, as well as closing the military airspace over Ukraine.
Featured speakers included community organizer Bohdan Cherniawski, club secretary Anastasiya Bigun and UB alum Antonina Bandrivska, who offered updates on the situation overseas as well as personal testimonials.
Several attendees spoke with The Spectrum about their loved ones overseas and the anxieties that followed Russia’s invasion.
Alex Myrovych and Rhea Mukhtarov share similar sorrows over the invasion, despite hailing from different countries.
Myrovych, a freshman pharmacy major, was born in Ukraine but immigrated to the U.S. in 2014. Despite having left Ukraine eight years ago, Myrovych still has strong ties to the country.
“All of my family members besides my parents are there currently,” Myrovych said. “And many of my classmates from my old schools were drafted to the [Russo-]Ukrainian war, which is just shocking.”
Mukhtarov, a sophomore computer science major, is an international student from Azerbaijan, another country with a long history of conflicts with its neighbors.
“We had a war that was going on for 35 years, and it just ended in 2020. So in this situation, I kind of feel the same pain as all the Ukrainian people here,” Mukhtarov said. “Alex is my best friend and I kinda — not only because of him — but I also want to support people that are trying to support Ukraine with this war. So I’m here [at the rally] right now. And I’m supporting them [Ukranians].”
Bandrivska provided a testimonial of a friend who remains in Ukraine and witnessed firsthand the first day of attacks. She described the harrowing scenes of missile strikes descending upon Kyiv.
“They’re targeting our hospitals, they’re targeting our kindergartens,” Bandrivska said. “They target everything they can.”
Much of her friends and family remain in Ukraine, Bandrivska says, which is a fact that weighs on her mind with each passing day.
“I just cannot normally function right now — it’s all I think about,” Bandrivska said. “[I] just keep checking the news, I keep talking to my friends to see that they’re all alive and safe and we just do what we can do.”
“It’s just been so much nerves and anxiety. We are very privileged in the U.S. — we are not the one under missiles. But I couldn’t focus on any of my studies, my lab work,” she said. “It was really hard to get anything done with the mental trauma at what’s going on. Just keep checking the news every five minutes — that’s basically what I do now.”
Although Bandrivska knows she can’t help her family directly right now, she is determined to spread awareness for their struggle.
“I know we cannot do that much,” she said. “But we just try to spread awareness so people can work and help Ukraine as much as they can.”
Assistant political science professor Collin Anderson, an expert on Russian conflict and messaging, was among the faculty present at Sunday’s rally. He says hearing the lived experiences of Ukrainians touched by the war has been key to garnering support for their cause among foreigners.
“It’s very easy for us to sit here and just watch it happen on YouTube or Twitter, but actually talking to someone who says like, oh, my parents or my family’s in Kharkiv,” Anderson said. “That takes it from being something you’re watching on TV to this person who I know has a stake in what’s happening.”
Roxy Tyminska, a club member and junior psychology major, echoed that sentiment as she manned a petition-signing station in the SU.
“It’s about spreading truth rather than hate,” Tyminska said. “Talking and discussing what are the true ways to help Ukraine at this moment, and how to further request more help from our own nation in the most peaceful and most proactive way possible.”
Hawuczyk says the club plans to hold regular meetings each Tuesday for the remainder of the conflict. The first meeting will take place on March 8 in NSC 228.
Another campus-wide rally focused on halting the war in Ukraine is slated to take place in the SU lobby this Friday at noon.
Students can find more information about Friends of Ukraine and keep up to date on upcoming events on UBLinked.
Julie Frey contributed to the reporting.
Kyle Nguyen is an assistant news/features editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Kyle Nguyen is a senior news/features editor at The Spectrum.