As the war in Ukraine nears eight months since invasion by Russian forces, 5C students reaffirmed their support for Ukraine at an event hosted by Claremont McKenna College Oct. 7-8.
Students and faculty gathered in the McKenna Auditorium for The War in Ukraine Social Engagement Fair, which aimed to “spark awareness about the Russian war against Ukraine, its devastating impact on millions of people and the environment, U.S. foreign policy on Ukraine and to spotlight the various humanitarian relief efforts [people] can engage in to help ameliorate the suffering,” according to a posting on CMC’s events calendar.
CMC’s Gould Center for Humanistic Studies, Salvatori Center for Individual Freedom, Mgrublian Center for Human Rights and the college’s religious studies department co-sponsored the event, according to flyers. In addition, the CMC Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies, the CMC Kravis Leadership Institute, the CMC Literature Department, and the Scripps College Center for European Union Studies served as the financial sponsors for this event.
CMC religious studies professor Gastón Espinosa led a team of 18 students — five of them Ukrainian — to organize the event, which community members and hundreds of students at the Claremont Colleges attended.
Marina Shishkina SC ’25, a Ukrainian student organizer from Kyiv, said the engagement fair raised thousands of dollars through a silent auction fundraiser and attendee donations, though the exact amount has yet to be determined, Espinosa said. These funds will be sent to NGOs working in Ukraine, the event calendar posting said.
Program highlights included talks and presentations by Ukrainian artists, students, Ukrainian diplomat Yehor Bozhok and Mark Juergensmeyer, author of “Terror in the Mind of God: Global Rise of Religious Violence.”
Saturday’s keynote speaker, Bozhok served as secretary of political affairs in the Ukrainian mission to NATO, according to talk moderator Espinosa’s introduction.
Bozhok reached audience members from Ukraine via Zoom at the front of the auditorium.
“It is my pleasure and honor to join you here today at this event … for the demonstration of solidarity and continued readiness of our United States friends and partners to support us in this difficult situation, where we are forced to deter unprecedented Russian aggression against not only our country but against the democracy and overall rule of law in principle,” Bozhok said.
Bozhok said that Ukraine shares the values held by members of NATO and underscored the country’s importance as a defensive alliance. When a student in the audience asked how Ukranians maintain morale, he expressed confidence in their ability to fight off Russian forces with support from the West.
“We are moving forward — we are now in a more successive position in comparison to the Russian Federation. We are liberating our country, meter by meter, kilometer by kilometer,” Bozhok said. “And we are lucky, and we are very grateful that we are not alone in this process, that we are being strongly supported by the Western civilization, led by the United States.”
One of the fair’s student organizers, Alexej Latimer PO ’24 is a half-Ukrainian student whose mother is from Kherson, a city deeply affected by the war. Latimer shared his perspective and personal connection to the war during the “Ukrainian Students at the Claremont Colleges: Watching the War from Abroad” panel Friday afternoon.
“I hope that people who didn’t have any or [had] very little understanding about Ukraine, its values, its history and its position in the world right now could leave that conference with a more well-rounded understanding of what the world really looks like today,” Latimer told TSL.
Given the logistical challenges organizers faced, Latimer said he was proud of their accomplishments.
Shishkina told TSL she hopes events like the Social Engagement Fair will reinvigorate engagement at the Claremont Colleges, which has declined since the beginning of the war.
“We have the resources and power to do anything we want in the world,” Shishkina said. “I would love to point the people here — because they have so much influence — in the right direction.”
Luc Fabing CMC ’26 said he joined Espinosa’s student organizers team as a research assistant in part to stay informed about the war in Ukraine.
“I think everybody needs to keep thinking about what’s going on [in Ukraine] and then hold it up against their values,” Luc Fabing CMC ’26 told TSL.
“I think everybody needs to keep thinking about what’s going on [in Ukraine] and then hold it up against their values,” Fabing told TSL. “And if their values tell them to take action, then they should.”
Fair attendee Talia Sherman SC ’26 said she heard about the fair from her professor Mark Juergensmeyer, another of the event’s keynote speakers.
“I know that it can be trivial to just put a [Ukraine flag] sticker on your laptop or have a sunflower on your backpack … [but] the fair showed that it doesn’t actually matter how small your action is as long as you’re doing something,” Sherman said.
The event follows The Crisis in Ukraine: Summer Symposia Series, an online collaborative symposium between faculty, students and staff at CMC and those at universities in Ukraine, as well as Ukrainian religious leaders.
Espinosa, the co-director of the series, said he drew on connections formed through his work in Ukraine over the past 12 years to put together the event’s program. He hopes students felt more informed and motivated to support Ukraine after attending the fair, adding that there are already more events in the works for this semester.
When expressing the importance of staying informed on this issue, Espinosa emphasized that the way people talk about it matters.
“My Ukrainian colleagues at Taras Shevchenko University in Kyiv pointed out that if you use the word ‘crisis,’ you are downplaying the suffering. It is a war,” Espinosa told TSL.
“It is not a crisis; it is not an intervention or a military operation. These words don’t tell you who is driving it. It should be called the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine because that is what it is.”