“Up in the air”: Yale’s ongoing response to the war in Ukraine
As war in Ukraine rages, Yale is furthering its distance from Russia and emphasizing its support for Ukrainian members of the University community.
Lukas Flippo, Senior Photographer
Three weeks since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Yale’s Ukrainian students are caught between continuing their lives on campus and anxiously awaiting news from their families and home country.
During the three weeks of conflict since Russian forces launched an invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, Ukrainian international students have had to carry on with their lives on campus while uncertainty looms at home. In response, Yale has announced steps to support Ukrainian members of the University community as well as further sever connections with Russia.
Faced with stalwart resistance from both the Ukrainian military and civilian fighters, Russia has thus far failed in its goal of capturing major cities throughout the country, including Kyiv. Nevertheless, aggression and attacks against Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have continued, costing thousands of Ukrainian lives and spurring over three million people to flee the country.
“It’s definitely been tough following the news,” said Yuliia Zhukovets ’23, a Ukrainian international student. “But I feel like by day five from when the war started, I was like, ‘Okay, I need to get myself back together.’ I’m not going to be just sitting glued to the news, calling my family every hour. I knew they were safe, so that was off of my mind, and I tried to refocus and get some work done.”
Zhukovets has worked to raise awareness of the conflict, as well as raise funds for relevant organizations. With the help of fellow Ukrainian students Oleksii Antoniuk ’24 and Sofiya Bidochko ’24, she organized a rally on March 1 which was attended by hundreds of people and has been involved with grassroots fundraising and drives for medical supplies.
For Zhukovets, rallying support has been a source of comfort as she watches the conflict in Ukraine unfold from far away. She emphasized the significance of even the smallest efforts to support the Ukrainian people.
“I’m just trying to stay sane by doing daily things, but also by trying to be active as well, because it is an ongoing conflict and I’m trying to do as much as I can,” Zhukovets said.
The University has publicly voiced its support for Ukraine since Feb. 24, when University President Peter Salovey wrote in an email to students that he condemned the Russian invasion.
In an additional March 10 statement to the University community, Salovey reiterated the support available to students from Ukraine and surrounding countries, including resources from faculty, staff and the Office of International Students and Scholars.
He also wrote that while Yale has no formal partnerships with Russian institutions and has no plans to form any, the University will not limit collaborations between Yale faculty and academics in Russia.
All University programs involving travel to Russia, however, have been deferred following an advisory from the U.S. Department of State against travel to the country. Yale Summer Session courses planned to be held in Russia this summer will not take place unless the State Department policy is changed.
Salovey reiterated the University’s commitment to respecting U.S. sanctions applicable to Russia, adding that the University will not permit individuals subject to U.S. sanctions to make donations to Yale or to serve on University boards or committees.
On Tuesday, the News reported that a program endowed by Len Blavatnik, a wealthy donor with ties to numerous sanctioned Russian oligarchs, would retain the Blavatnik name. Blavatnik has not been sanctioned himself.
Last week, one of the firms that invested the University’s endowment divested its Russian holdings, pulling millions of Yale dollars from Russian investments and cutting all of Yale’s financial ties to the country, Salovey said.
“The callous disregard for human life and ruthless destruction of Ukraine’s cities and towns are gross violations of international law and an assault on our common humanity,” Salovey wrote in his March 10 announcement. “Vladimir Putin’s actions and his reckless threats of wider war are a risk to international peace and order. Yale condemns this unjustified and unprovoked attack.”
The United States also continues to symbolically and financially support Ukraine in the ongoing conflict.
Following broad sanctions implemented in late February, United States President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that the U.S. would send an additional $800 million in security aid to Ukraine, following an appeal to Congress from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
In February, Antoniuk emphasized to the News his belief in Ukraine’s ability to win the war. Three weeks later, he said, the sentiment among Ukrainians is even more optimistic.
“We believe we can win this war,” Antoniuk said on Tuesday. “It still will be a bloody war and will take a lot of resources, but we will win it. That’s the general feeling in Ukraine.”
Both Zhukovets and Antoniuk are in regular contact with their families, and Zhukovets said it was a weight off her shoulders to know that they were safe. She tries to call them at least once a day, often with stories about her life at Yale — it is a comfort to her family, she said, to know that she is safe on campus and can focus on her studies instead of her immediate safety.
Zhukovets had not originally planned to return to Ukraine over the upcoming spring break, and now remains unsure about when she will next see her family or be able to return home.
“The plan was to go back in May and to see my family then, but I’m not sure that will be happening anytime soon,” Zhukovets said. “Hopefully, I’ll still be able to see them sometime this summer, but it’s hard to make plans because I don’t know my summer plans and they’re assessing the situation day by day and seeing what they can do. It’s definitely up in the air.”
OISS offers general guidance on questions of international travel for students and has specifically helped those from Ukraine who might be concerned about their ability to return home.
“OISS is talking with individual students about any changes in travel and summer plans,” OISS Director Ann Kuhlman told the News. “We are helping to connect them with the relevant Yale resources including work options, undergraduate financial aid, Safety Net and more. We are also ready to help with longer term immigration questions when they arise.”
In the meantime, Zhukovets emphasized the support she continues to receive from the Yale community.
Although the greatest influx of support came in the days immediately after the invasion, Zhukovets said that her residential college dean still regularly checks in with her and that her professors have accommodated requests for extensions on her assignments.
“It just feels very comforting and good and heartwarming for a person I might not know that well to take five minutes out of their day to text or email me,” Zhukovets said. “It’s a small thing, but I feel like it does make a big difference, so that’s definitely been great.”
Antoniuk also expressed his gratitude for Yale’s support for the Ukrainian cause on the administrative level, pointing specifically to the University’s financial separation from Russia.
Last week, Antoniuk penned an opinion piece in the News calling for the increased admission of students from Ukraine and other wartorn countries. After the publication of the piece, he said he received communication from Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan inviting him to meet to discuss the issue further.
“Yale’s response was great,” Antoniuk said. “I can say that I’m proud to be at this university.”
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