Members of Rider’s Ukrainian American population react to war

By Kaitlyn McCormick

For many members of the Rider community, the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine may feel far removed from day-to-day business, but for some of the campus’s Ukrainian American population, updates from the war are only a phone call away. Freshman triplets Olena, Chrystyna and Taras Mykhaylyshyn have extended family on both their mother and father’s sides currently living in Ukraine.

The siblings, whose parents emigrated from Ukraine before they were born, explained that while they have not visited Ukraine since they were 3, they hope to visit in the future, but this desire is only accentuating the heartbreak brought on by the war. 

Olena Mykhaylyshyn, an accounting major, said, “In the future, I do want to go [to Ukraine], and I want there to be a place to go to.”

The Mykhaylyshyns have been doing their best to stay in touch with their family, though they mentioned the underlying concerns of having cousins that are of fighting age as well as older relatives who would not be able to defend themselves.

The triplets also spoke on the overall uncertainty prevalent in their conversations with family as Russia’s invasion continues from multiple fronts to take substantial territory in Ukraine, including the capitol Kyiv. 

Olena Mykhaylyshyn said, “It’s important to note that we’re from the West … at first we thought that we’re going to be more safe.” Ukraine has been dealing with aggression from Russia since 2014, primarily in the eastern part of the country, but the Mykhaylyshyns’ family had been able to live peacefully up until Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion last month.

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Psychology professor Chrystina Dolyniuk, a proud first-generation Ukrainian American, has both familial and professional ties to Ukraine through her involvement with the Ukrainian Catholic University as a 2011 and 2014 Fulbright Specialist Award winner and agreed that it has been scary having limited contact with the people she cares about in such a tumultuous time. 

Dolyniuk maintained the unfortunate truth that while the current news out of Ukraine is devastating, Russia’s belligerence under Putin is not entirely unpredictable in retrospect.

“As a Ukrainian, I’m not surprised that this happened. Ukrainians have suffered this type of Russian aggression for centuries,” Dolyniuk said. She further explained that what the world is witnessing now is “evidence of the Russian brutality against the Ukrainian people that has been happening for a very long time.”

Dolyniuk and the Mykhaylyshyn siblings have been clear about one thing: the call for members of the Rider community to educate themselves and help where possible in showing support for Ukraine as this war unfolds.

Olena Mykhaylyshyn expressed gratitude for the support she and her siblings have received from professors, the counseling center and peers alike, before recentering the conversation around the need for direct help for Ukrainians. “We specifically don’t need help,” she said. “All those people there need help. …We just want support for Ukraine.”

Dolyniuk said, “If you believe in freedom and democracy and you want world peace, you have to speak up for Ukraine.”

Multiple communications were sent out last week from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as well as the 

the Office of the President condemning the Russian invasion and drawing attention to ways the Rider community can get involved.

Dolyniuk has been working closely with the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church of Newark collecting donations for Ukrainians through a humanitarian aid drive. The current round of acceptances ends March 10, but volunteers are also needed for packing and sorting, and Dolyniuk foresees a continued need for humanitarian efforts.

Dolyniuk also encouraged other ways to show support for Ukraine, such as wearing blue and yellow and boycotting Russian gas. 

The passion and perseverance displayed by the people of Ukraine as a sovereign country have been nothing short of inspiring, and this judgment follows the Ukrainian American population at Rider as well.

Taras Mykhaylyshyn, a business administration major, said, “You can’t kill the want for freedom. No matter how hard you try.”

 Dolyniuk echoed this sentiment. “I am so incredibly proud,” she said. “I take tremendous pride in the fact that this is my ancestral homeland.”

The Ukrainian American students and faculty at Rider are planning a ‘blue and yellow day’ on March 10 in solidarity with Ukraine.  A campus vigil will be held at 6 p.m. in the Kaplan Plaza with the rain location being Lynch Adler room 202. 

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