Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 Eastern European Standard Time, the IU Ukrainian community has faced anxiety for their people and fears for family and friends in the country.
At least 64 Ukrainian civilians have been killed and about 240 casualties have been reported in Ukraine as of Sunday, according to Reuters. Damage to civilian areas has left some Ukrainians without electricity or water and hundreds of homes have been completely destroyed.
The United Nations Refugee Agency reports more than 160,000 people have been displaced and more than 116,000 have fled Ukraine, according to Reuters.
IU lecturer Svitlana Melnyk is a Ukrainian native living in Bloomington. She said the attack is a full-scale war against Ukraine.
“It's a crime against humanity,” she said.
Melnyk’s family and friends currently live in the country. Her best friend celebrated her birthday and received many warm wishes in the hours leading up to the Russian attack on Ukraine. Melnyk said at the end of her birthday, her best friend was grateful to be in her home, sleeping in her own bed, yet ready to run to a bomb shelter at a moment’s notice.
Melnyk said she has received supportive messages from current and former students and her colleagues.
“They understand that Ukrainian people will fight for their freedom and why they will fight for their freedom,” she said. “This fills my heart with the warm and deepest gratitude, because that’s so important for me and for all of us.”
Melnyk spoke with her niece Feb. 24 Eastern Standard Time, who said she was shocked by a Russian TV channel’s description of Ukraine as the aggressor in the invasion.
Melnyk said her friends in Ukraine told her that the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, urged the Ukrainian army to surrender. But the Ukrainian people, not just the army, are fighting for their country. The Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces, a civilian reserve force, is believed to have more than 130,000 volunteers, according to The Washington Post.
“They stand for democracy, they stand for Ukraine right now — and they are dying for Ukraine right now,” she said.
Ukraine is a sovereign, democratic country with the right to choose its own government and values, Melnyk said.
“Our people do not need any Russian liberation and protection,” she said.
The war in Ukraine is not solely the country’s problem, but the entire world’s problem, Melnyk said. Ukraine stands for human rights and the right to choose its own destiny, which should not be dependent on Putin’s decisions, she said.
Ukraine needs support in the form of weapons, financial assistance and heavy sanctions against Russia, Melnyk said. She said she believes de-escalation in Ukraine is possible with the support of European countries and the United States.
Melnyk said she wants to start an initiative to teach a Ukrainian language class for beginners. Any interested students, staff or community members can contact Melnyk at email@example.com. She said it’s important to teach others about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and provide verified information.
“Technology’s changed, but not the desire to kill, humiliate or rule over other human beings,” she said.
IU alumna Olesia Markovic grew up in Ukraine and currently lives in Kyiv, the country’s capital. In an email to the Indiana Daily Student, she said many Ukrainians didn’t believe the invasion would happen despite Western intelligence warnings. However, she felt it would happen, but no one was prepared for it.
Markovic said some of her friends with children left for safer places, some stayed in Kyiv and some joined territorial defense teams.
“We all do what we can,” she wrote. “I can not fire a weapon, but I can inform global audiences about what’s happening here. I can donate money to the Ukraine army.”
Markovic said the Ukrainian military has shown Putin his attack on Ukraine was a mistake.
“We will resist,” she wrote. “But we need strong support of the rest of the world.”
Iryna Voloshyna, an IU international and Ph.D. student from Ukraine living in Bloomington, said she was not surprised by the attack, given Russian aggression has been prevalent for years.
Voloshyna said her family and friends were unsure what to do after the attack. Like Markovic’s friends, some of Voloshyna’s friends are in Kyiv, others fled to safer areas or are hiding in shelters.
“I am very worried here for them and I’m doing everything to support them,” she said. “But I don’t know how it feels to be in the shelters locked with your family, with small children, with your animals, your pets, for days.”
Voloshyna said she and her friends feel after the war they must come back to Ukraine and help rebuild the country.
“I know that Ukraine will win because people are incredible and the truth is on our side,” she said. “I feel like I have moral obligation to go back to Ukraine and stay there and work there and pay my taxes there.”
Voloshyna said she thinks other countries need to stand up and help. She is frustrated with the United Nations for letting this attack happen.
“I am sick of the deep concerns that everybody’s expressing,” she said. “Where have you been all these years?”
Voloshyna said she wants people to understand Ukraine is preventing a war from breaking out throughout Europe.
“I’m proud to be Ukrainian,” she said.