Khrystyna Adam couldn’t stop her hands from trembling or her eyes from tearing up.
Nor could she keep herself from scrolling through the myriad of “WWIII” jokes that filled her Instagram feed: A fake UBAlert of an incoming nuclear warhead, followed by a fake Zoom call with Vladimir Putin.
It was a startlingly comedic contrast to the harrowing images of collapsed buildings and anxious text messages that have filled her waking hours these last few weeks, she says.
Adam is a member of the Ukrainian community at UB, one that has anxiously watched as their loved ones face the Russo-Ukrainian war at home. While many of their peers are able to walk triumphantly to class or chat freely in the halls, these students’ days are an exercise of vigilance filled with prayers that their loved ones remain safe.
“This is our reality. We are so afraid to look down at our phone to see the text message from our family saying, ‘We’re going underground, we’ll contact you when we’re okay,’” Adam said. “You don’t know what news it could be. It could be a family member just died or our house has been shot down. This is not the time to joke around about things like this.”
Since the beginning of the invasion in Ukraine on Feb. 24, the Buffalo Ukrainian community has rallied and fundraised to raise awareness for those impacted by the conflict.
Adam, a junior biological sciences major, was leaving a lab on South Campus when she opened her phone to news of the first cities under attack in Ukraine: Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Kherson. She immediately called home to her family back in Lviv, where she grew up.
“They woke up at five in the morning to sirens going off and they had no idea what was happening,” Adam said. “I’m speaking to you [The Spectrum] right now — three hours ago they were just going in and out of underground bunkers because the sirens are going off.”
Adam says updates like these have taken a toll on her sleep schedule and her mental health.
“I go to sleep at like four in the morning and [I’m] just checking up on the news and constantly texting my family and friends just asking if they are alright,” Adam said.
Senior pharmaceutical sciences major Greg Hawuczuk has a similar dynamic, with extended family members left in Ukraine. He says his cousin, a resident of the capital city of Kyiv, was able to leave the city with family before shelling began.
“He was one of the lucky ones,” Hawuczyk said. “As soon as the shelling broke out, he managed to make it back to his hometown, a small town in the west of Ukraine called Terebovlya. Hopefully, they’ll be safe there.”
Hawuczyk recalls texting his uncle after news of the invasion first broke. The interaction left the UB senior with little doubt about the seriousness of the situation.
“My uncle — he’s close to 50 or 55 — I was texting with him and he said, ‘We’re all worried,’” Hawuczyk recalled. “I’ve never had a grown man ever tell me that he’s worried or scared before. Ukraine has — I don’t want to say it has a machismo culture — but there’s a stoicness to the Ukrainian man. So just to hear that left goosebumps on me.”
Roxy Tyminska, a junior psychology major, says the constant worry for her loved ones brought about by the invasion has left her and other students in similar circumstances: drained. Tyminska called for patience from university faculty for students touched by the ongoing war.
“After the first night of hearing the news, I started crying, I won’t lie. Everything became a blur,” Tyminska said. “Eventually, I started to notice that I haven’t been keeping up with my assignments simply because the stress is making me forget everything and constantly turning on the phone to follow the news.”
Tyminska says that it would be helpful for professors to create a support system for affected students, though she understands the rigors of classes require students to “be on top of it.”
“Yes, we have to be [on top of our schoolwork] and we are all trying our best,” Tyminska said.
Tyminaska, Adam and Hawuczuk are all members of Friends of Ukraine, a student organization representing Ukrainian voices on campus. Since the outbreak of the conflict, the group has held rallies on campus to garner support for Ukraine as civilians overseas attempt to navigate the crisis.
The first rally, held on Feb. 27, featured community speakers and table space for garnering signatures for petitions and pre-written letters imploring U.S. lawmakers and the international community for a stronger response, including the enactment of a no-fly zone above Ukraine and a ban on Russia from SWIFT, a global financial network essential for bank transfers.
Since then, the European Union has agreed to a partial ban of Russian banks from SWIFT that will go into effect on March 12. But enacting a no-fly zone over Ukraine remains contentious with the U.S. and NATO.
A second rally held on March 6 raised money through raffles, donations and bracelet sales that is being used to send humanitarian aid and medical supplies to Ukraine.
Assistant political science professors Collin Anderson and Shawn Donahue were featured alongside community organizer Bohdan Cherniawski and UB alum Antonina Bandrivska to discuss the latest updates on the crisis and continue to advocate for a no-fly zone to be enforced over Ukraine.
Donahue spoke of his partner, Olena, who is currently stranded in Ukraine.
“We were planning on going to Spain during the spring break,” Donahue said. “Of course, that’s not going to happen anymore.”
Donahue projected a presentation above the Student Union lobby that displayed snapshots of the couple’s memories together as he spoke.
A Ukrainian citizen of Kyiv, Donahue says his partner fled to the countryside in hopes of staying out of reach from the ongoing missile strikes and shelling as visa requirements restrict her from crossing into the U.S.
Donahue used the sky to compel rally attendees to empathize with Ukrainians.
“Look outside at the blue sky… you may see some clouds, you may see some other things,” Donahue said. “But if you’re in Ukraine and you look up at the sky right now, you’re not thinking of the blue sky. You’re thinking of missiles, bombs and other things coming out of the sky that may kill or dismember you and your family and friends.”
He paused to look back at the towering image of his distant companion and turned back to the crowd.
“Just be grateful that you can look up in the sky and know that there’s nothing coming out of that sky that’s going to kill you,” he said.
After consecutive days of relentless rallying and campaigning in the wake of the invasion, Hawuczyk, the president of Friends of Ukraine, maintains that the “overwhelming amount of support in the campus community” has been a northern star helping navigate the tribulations of the situation.
“I’ve had friends that I haven’t talked to since freshman year come up to me and ask me how I’m doing, how my family is,” Hawuczyk said. “There’s still love in the UB community.”
With the two-week clip approaching marking the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Hawuczyk shared words of renewed conviction, as well as a message of sympathy for Russian students at UB.
Hawuczyk says the conflict in Ukraine is a wider pushback against autocratic rule, citing responses from the international community and from within Russia itself.
More than 4,640 Russian anti-war protesters have been detained by police, according to a report by monitoring group OVD-Info over the weekend.
“We [Ukraine] have been constantly fighting for freedom and democracy, our whole entire existence. If you’re for freedom, for personal liberties, for personal rights and democracy, you should stand with Ukraine, Russian citizens and the city of Moscow,” Hawuczyk said.
“They knew that they were going to get detained and possibly arrested, but thousands of Russian citizens stood up to the oppressive regime against Putin. That itself speaks volumes.”
Kyle Nguyen is an assistant news/features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kyle Nguyen is a senior news/features editor at The Spectrum.