One week into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Cal Poly’s Russian Student Association gave students the opportunity on Thursday to share their reactions to the war and how they or their families are being affected.

About a dozen students gathered on March 3 for the hybrid discussion, which was open to all students, regardless of ethnicity or whether they were personally impacted by the conflict.

Russian Student Association President Victoria Tsinker opened the event with a brief summary of the history of tensions leading up to the Russia-Ukraine war and facilitated the subsequent conversation.

During the discussion, Tsinker talked about her grandmother, who still lives in the Ukrainian capital city, Kyiv. Since the war broke out, Tsinker said she has felt worried for her grandmother and her health.

“I had to take a two-day break from the news because I was getting so overwhelmed,” Tsinker said.

Other attendees took the opportunity to open up about their worries and fears. One of those students was environmental management and protection senior Anya Poplavska, who said she was born in Kyiv. Two of her uncles and her grandparents live there, with one of her uncles stepping up to serve as a leader of a civilian army group in the war.

The first-generation Ukrainian student said she and her parents call their family members in Kyiv every day through an app called Viber to make sure they are safe.

“It’s been really hard on our family,” Poplavska said. “When we call them, they can hear air raids and explosions in the distance.”

On the second day of the incursion, the Ukrainian government declared martial law and announced men between the ages of 18 and 60 were prohibited from leaving the country. This order explains why Poplavska’s family cannot leave Ukraine easily.

To raise awareness of the conflict in Ukraine, Poplavska and her father created Ukraine Aid Information & Resources, a Facebook group in which members can share fundraisers, resources and updates throughout the war. Poplavska said she also hopes to organize a demonstration or fundraiser at Cal Poly to keep students and community members informed.

“I want to create a safe space for people who want to talk about their feelings or experiences because it’s a scary time for many students,” Poplavska said.

Another student at the discussion was biochemistry freshman Nika Bondar, who was born and raised in Kyiv until the seventh grade. Bondar, her parents and her 12-year-old brother now live in Sunnyvale, California, while the rest of her family remains in Ukraine.

“I’ve always struggled with feelings of survivor’s guilt, being saved from the war by my privilege of living in the United States and continuing my studies in biochemistry while my family is in the middle of it,” Bondar said.



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[aesop_parallax img=”” parallaxbg=”fixed” parallaxspeed=”2″ caption=”The exterior of the apartment complex where biochemistry freshman Nika Bondar’s grandparents used to live in Irpin, Ukraine, in 2021 (top) and in 2022 (bottom) after Russia’s invasion. Courtesy | Nika Bondar” captionposition=”bottom-right” lightbox=”on” floater=”off” floaterposition=”left” floaterdirection=”none” overlay_revealfx=”off”]


Bondar said she thinks American media outlets tend to focus on Ukrainians’ fears and the destruction of Ukrainian cities. However, she wants people in the U.S. to direct their attention toward the strength of Ukrainians.

“Fear is not the primary attitude people have in Ukraine because this level of resilience is something special to our country,” Bondar said. “Because we have such a long history with Russia, Ukrainians are ready to defend what is theirs at any cost, including their lives and the lives of the people they love.”

What’s happening in Ukraine

The tensions leading up to the Russian incursion of Ukraine date back to the breakup of the Soviet Union. During the Soviet era, Crimea — located along the southern coast of Ukraine and the northern coast of the Black Sea — belonged to Ukraine. The country retained Crimea following the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991.

In February and March 2014, the Russian government invaded and annexed Crimea during the Russo-Ukrainian War. This led to Ukraine and many other countries imposing sanctions against Russia.

On Feb. 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree recognizing Donetsk and Luhansk, two Ukrainian breakaway regions, as independent states. On the same day, Putin ordered troops to be deployed into both territories.

Three days later, Putin announced the launch of a “special military operation” in Ukraine as Russian forces invaded Ukraine by land, air and sea. In response, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced he would end all diplomatic ties with Moscow.

As of Thursday evening, one million people have fled their homes in Ukraine since the war began. Approximately half of all Ukrainian refugees are in Poland, with many others seeking relief in Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia and other European countries, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

In response to the mass exodus of Ukrainians, the Biden administration is allowing some of them to temporarily stay in the U.S. This relief, which would shield refugees from deportation for a year and a half, would benefit an estimated 30,000 Ukrainians, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“Russia’s premeditated and unprovoked attack on Ukraine has resulted in an ongoing war, senseless violence, and Ukrainians forced to seek refuge in other countries,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas stated in the release.

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