Ukrainian students organize vigil honoring Ukraine’s ‘strength and ingenuity’ in face of Russian invasion

5C Ukrainian students held a vigil last Friday on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Courtesy: Hannah Frasure)

On Friday, Feb. 24, students organized a 5C-wide vigil at Claremont McKenna College’s Bauer Center to commemorate the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The vigil was followed by an indoor Q&A session at Scripps College’s Motley Coffeehouse about the actions the 5C community can take to help Ukrainians. 

Marina Shishkina SC ’25 was one of three Ukrainian students who gave speeches to the 30 attendees.

“It has been a year of pain, sorrow, faith and unity,” Shishkina said. 

Organizer Ivan Dudiak HM ’26 had personal connections to the Ukrainian war. Dudiak was abroad when Russia invaded. His mother’s escape from Kherson, Ukraine in March 2022 took 19 hours due to Russian checkpoints, which Dudiak’s mother relayed to him via phone. 

“My mom, I think she’s a hero,” Dudiak said. “In a pretty average-sized car, she managed to drive 11 people out of the city.”

Another organizer, Oleksandr Horban CM ’24, was also away from home and learned of his family’s traumatic experience.

“[My dad] said ‘If we ever meet again,’ and that was something I never expected to hear,” Horban said. “The Russian troops were positioned maybe around 20 minutes away from our house [in Kyiv] … you never know what’s going to happen to you. If Russian troops are in your city, you can be killed, raped [and] tortured just for being Ukrainian.”

Toward the end of the vigil, the organizers directed the audience to sing Ukraine’s national anthem and a popular Ukrainian folk song to express solidarity with Ukrainian victims.

Afterward, Alina Saratova HM ’23 and Alexej Latimer PO ’24 joined the students to discuss more steps they believe the 5C administrations and student body could take, some of which were specific to Russian students. 

“There are entire portions of the country that have been, in some cases, physically, socially and culturally decimated,” Latimer said, referring to Russia’s 2014 invasion of the Crimean Peninsula, where his family lives.

He advised people not to believe any rhetoric that deems Russia’s invasion a “positive effort” or “effort of unification” — a stance, he believes, that reflects Russian neo-imperialism. Many dissenters in Russia fear persecution—over 15,000 protesters have been arrested since Feb. 24, 2022, but some students commented that Russian dissenters do not face the same consequences in the United States.U.S.

“How many people from Russia are right here in this room right now? Not a single one,” Horban said. “If they don’t support their president, they’re safe enough to express their political opinions here. It’s not Putin’s war in Ukraine, it’s Russia’s war in Ukraine.”

Hilary Appel, a CMC gGovernment professor with an expertise in Russian politics, further clarified the potential repercussions Russian citizens can face for speaking out against the war, including facing lengthy prison sentences for their dissent.

“Russians abroad can express dissent as long as they are not returning home. The big fear is personal arrest inside of Russia,” she said to TSL via email.

Shishkina wished Russian students privately opposed to the war would do what Ukrainian students publicly do. She referred to an art stand that she and several other Ukrainian students ran on Feb. 26, at the Claremont Farmers & Artisans Market. They gave out art to fundraise for generators at Ukrainian hospitals, as they did at the Q&A session. 

“Fundraising, speaking out about it, creating conferences, engagement fairs [and] garage sales like the farmer’s market,” she said about event ideas that Russian students could host to support Ukrainian students. 

Ukrainian students at the Q&A encouraged attendees to donate what they can to their fundraiser and to follow the news. Ukrainian students suggested the Kyiv Independent and Kyiv Post as credible news for English- speaking students to use to learn about updates on the war. 

During the vigil, many of the organizers wanted to emphasize the importance of language used to describe the Russian invasion. Shishkina intentionally used the word “genocide” to describe Russia’s invasion. Latimer felt the term “war” did not adequately capture the global, economic implications of the conflict for Ukraine. 

“There are so many factors within this war that lead towards actual international catastrophe,” Latimer said.  “[Ukraine’s] resources … are just burning away … The word ‘war’ kind of swallows so many details.” 

For the student organizers, they hope attendees can take away that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is most clearly one about sovereignty and autonomy. 

“Remember that Russia is not doing this because they want the best for Ukrainians … they  want to eradicate a lot of cultural components,” Saratova said.

Dudiak hopes to return to Ukraine permanently, and he shared a dream that he has for his homecoming.

“I’ve never tried alcohol, so when Ukraine is liberated, I’ll go to Crimea, to Yalta — it’s a beautiful city along the shores of the Black Sea, in the mountains — I’ll go to a poor, schmoozy restaurant, I’ll get a glass of red wine and watch the Black Sea.”

Shishkina also chose to speak about Ukrainian food, her favorite: grechka.

“My mom, when she visited last year, actually brought me some … I’ve only been making it on special occasions … It really reminds me of being in Kyiv in the summer and being with my grandmother, running around in the yard and catching butterflies and just being a little kid.”

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