Ukrainian students in the United States face fear and uncertainty

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When Solomia Dzhaman thinks of Ukraine, she thinks of her grandparents’ farm – picking ripe strawberries to eat, pulling apples from trees in the orchard, and picking currants from the vine so her grandparents can sell them in the market.

“Pastoral, quiet memories like that,” she said. “This is the scene that plays in my head when I think of Ukraine.”

She tries to cling to the images of the home she once knew, not the images that saturate the news now: men with bullets in their heads lying in the road, people fleeing over bridges, bombs smashing houses. She left the Columbia University campus unable to focus on her in-person engineering classes while her friends were on the front lines and loved ones lived in fear.

The war has upended the lives of Ukrainian students in the United States and prompted university and federal officials to act quickly to help.

For some students here on a visa, it raised questions about when and if they could safely return. For some settled here more permanently, it has brought up painful emotions about home and heart and how best to help in a humanitarian crisis. And for some Ukrainian students, the war has kept them from continuing their studies abroad this spring, as they cross borders to flee violence – or turn to help in combat.

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“I have no legal right to leave the country,” Dmytro Tymoshenko, 29, said from Boryspil outside Kyiv, where he has been staying this year rather than returning to his master’s degree program in law at the University of California at Berkeley Law School. . “And I have no moral right to leave the country – because the country needs me.”

While his classmates are on campus, he is in the middle of a war. “Many towns are completely destroyed,” he said. “Many towns are experiencing a complete humanitarian disaster: no electricity, no gas, no light, no water, nothing at all. They are simply dying. He and others began to work in a volunteer battalion, making Molotov cocktails, cooking food, driving aid to military posts. Now he is fundraising for thermal visors, body armor, radio transmitters and other military supplies.

“We defend our freedom,” Tymoshchenko said.

Within days of the outbreak of war, American higher education leaders joined in ask federal officials for help supporting the approximately 1,700 Ukrainian students enrolled here. In March, the US Department of Homeland Security designated Ukraine for temporary protected status for 18 months, allowing students whose visas are about to expire to apply to stay in that country.

On Monday, DHS officials announced a new step, special help for students to eligible students from Ukraine experiencing extreme economic hardship – temporarily suspending regulations, allowing them to apply for more work hours and take fewer courses.

As the weeks go on, it is increasingly clear that it will be difficult for many Ukrainians to return home anytime soon, said Barbara Snyder, president of the Association of American Universities.

Schools and organizations have responded with individual support and, in some cases, broader efforts to help students.

The Institute of International Education has many efforts to helpand has already distributed emergency scholarships to more than 225 Ukrainian students, according to Jonah Kokodyniak, the organization’s senior vice president.

The University of Chicago has created comprehensive courses scholarships and support for war-affected students, including increased financial and other aid for students here, and more help for students applying to colleges at its center in Paris.

Hampton University, a historically black university in Virginia, offered to fund tuition, room and board for the summer semester for 50-100 students studying in Ukraine.

Columbia University, which offers a full scholarship to displaced students, has also launched efforts including emergency scholarships for Ukrainian scholars.

And at many colleges, students and others have organized relief efforts and fundraisers. At Johns Hopkins University, four Peabody Conservatory graduate students, including a flutist from Ukraine, staged a benefit concert last week which ended with a melody by the late Ukrainian composer Myroslav Skoryk.

The students described horror and uncertainty as they tried to balance the unthinkable abroad with the logistical obstacles here. A pregnant Columbia student wondered if her husband could join her in New York since she won’t be returning home to Ukraine after the semester ends. A graduate student who fled to Poland before war broke out, juggles studying at Berkeley early in the morning with his day job, his two-year-old daughter, and his evenings helping refugees at home. frontier.

Others report the trauma of watching from afar. Tetiana Tytko, a graduate student at the University of Maryland in Lviv, western Ukraine, said when the shelling started she didn’t know what to think or what to do. When she saw the streets where she lived and worked being bombed, she was at first unable to believe it was real. “I was completely delusional,” she said. She would wake up not wanting to look at her phone, frightened by the news she might see but unable to think of anything but the war.

While her parents were happy that she was safe out of the country, she found it painful not to be there. When her family is in bomb shelters, she is unable to reach them.

She and others at U-Md. created a group of Ukrainian students and started fundraising, collecting and stuffing old suitcases with tourniquets and other emergency medical supplies. “We never feel like we do enough,” she said.

The university’s police department donated 20 used bulletproof vests which were shipped to Ukraine. David B. Mitchell, the head of the department, said he had seen television footage of elderly people taking up arms to fight, and doctors, nurses and other volunteers in the line of fire, all without a bulletproof vest. He said it was an overwhelming encounter with Ukrainian students at U-Md. and hearing about their aunts and uncles, grandparents and friends being “attacked, because they want democracy — they want freedom.”

Mariya Curry, who studies psychology at Columbia, said many of her relatives lived in Irpin and hid in their basements for several days without food. “My heart is there,” she said. “I can’t stop crying.”

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Dzhaman, who is from the Ivano-Frankivsk region of Ukraine, spent the early days of the war constantly reading the news and trying to help others who needed a safer place to stay, offering a shelter with her extended family in the west.

When another Ukrainian student at Columbia University told her that he looked at the live map of the bombed places and saw his old neighborhood, the places where he shopped, his apartment, on the map, she understood.

They were all “just crying together,” she said.

Dzhaman, who has US citizenship, requested permission to complete the semester virtually so she could be with her parents and sister in Illinois. She posted on social media asking for donations of blood clotting products and tourniquets, and was surprised by the volume of responses – thousands of dollars worth of supplies, which her family shipped to Kyiv and Mariupol.

She plans to return to Ukraine, where she used to spend every summer, to help rebuild once the war is over and revisit her old haunts – if she can. “If everything is blown up and bombed…I’ll never see him again,” she said worriedly.

She stopped. “It will be the first thing I do when I get back: go to the orchard, sit in the grass, eat fresh strawberries.”

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