Note: Names and other identifying details of the Ukrainian students and participants are omitted at their request, to protect their safety.
“Our daily lives have been shattered into hundreds of pieces.” That’s how one Ukrainian student described the situation in Ukraine, speaking during a March 11 Zoom conversation that brought together students from around the world.
The virtual gathering was organized by the Institute of Ecumenical Studies (IEE) at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv as a “bridge of solidarity” between students in Ukraine and other parts of the world.
“Academic communities in various countries have reached out to us offering their solidarity and help,” said an IEE administrator in the email invitation. “We thought that one of the ways in which this solidarity could be strengthened, would be by organizing meetings between Ukrainian students and their foreign peers. We see this as an opportunity to share what Ukrainians are experiencing, how they are reacting to the war, how the situation looks like from abroad, and how people abroad can help to stop the war and support their peers in Ukraine.”
More than 350 university students, faculty and staff joined the Zoom from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Spain, France, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, Croatia, Slovakia, Hungary, England, Ireland, Scotland, South Korea, Singapore, the Philippines, Vietnam, India and Brazil. Four Perkins faculty and staff and nine Perkins students joined the conversation. Dr. Ted Campbell, Albert C. Outler Professor of Wesley Studies at Perkins, has taught at the Institute for Ecumenical Studies in the past; he learned about the conference and invited members of the Perkins community to join.
Opening the Zoom, one of the organizers noted that many expressions of solidarity have come to IEE from church agencies around the world.
“We need this solidarity, and we are grateful for your prayers,” the organizer said.
Annette Kurschus, representing the Protestant Church in Germany, kicked off the virtual gathering with a prayer of petition: “Comfort those who mourn the loss of their friends. Change the hearts of the aggressors. Grant us your peace.”
Eight Ukrainian students shared a PowerPoint they had prepared and talked about their experiences, as students from around the world listened and answered questions. Some of the students had already fled to Poland. Those joining the Zoom from Lviv, in western Ukraine, were safe at the time of Zoom, but were keeping their backpacks near at all times so they could run to safety should the warning sirens go off.
Students who had fled to safety in Poland said they felt they had betrayed their country. One talked about survivor’s guilt — the feeling that “I’m alive, and other people are dying.”
“We just want to live our lives,” the student said.
Another student characterized the war as a struggle between good and evil. While it’s a very dark time, they said, their faith is strong, their people are brave and they are confident Ukraine will win.
Classes have been suspended at the University. At the time of the conference, the students were doing what they could to help the war effort: baking treats for the soldiers, weaving camouflage nets, collecting items for a nearby supply center operated by the military.
Dianne McCleary, a first-year M.Div. student, was one of the Perkins students joining the Zoom.
“I was amazed at the resiliency of those students,” she said. “They kept apologizing for being emotional, yet they were so calm and composed in how they spoke. Several kept saying, ‘We don’t want people to hate the Russians. It’s the Russian leadership doing this, this is not the Russian people.’ ”
McCleary, who is youth director at First UMC in Brownsville, hopes to share parts of the Zoom with youth in her church.
“It was a great opportunity to hear what was going on firsthand,” she said. “I want the youth in my church to see how this war is affecting the students in Ukraine. They might assume that life goes on, but it doesn’t. Life as they know it in Ukraine has come to an abrupt halt. I also want them to see that, in the midst of this tragedy, the students are finding ways to help others and support the soldiers.”
“Listening to the students share their sorrow for friends who have already be lost in the fighting was heartbreaking,” said Tracy Anne Allred, assistant dean of student life. “They shared from a deeply emotional level about their personal experiences, their lives as a University students in the midst of crisis, and how the world can connect and help make a difference. They gave us historical film suggestions and news outlets covering the news from Ukraine. What a privilege for our theology students to engage with and learn from these Ukrainian students.”
“It was really gripping to hear these accounts in real time,” said Campbell. “We see the images in newsfeeds, but this made the reality very clear to us, especially as we heard the emotion behind the students’ voices. My prayers for all of them continue.”
As a visible sign of their prayers and support for peace for the people of Ukraine, Perkins students have created a Prayer Net. Anyone can visit the Prayer Net in the foyer of Prothro Hall to add blue and yellow ribbons.
The Prayer Net is a joint effort of Feminist Advocating Change and Empowerment (FACE), led by Sara Cowley, President; and the Perkins Student Association Chaplain, Eunbyul “Stella” Cho. The Prayer Net will remain until the end of the semester or until resolution is achieved.
Instructions for engaging with the Prayer Net are posted, and anyone may participate. The student volunteers are also creating a video with instructions.
To Learn More:
The Ukrainian students recommend these websites as resources:
Films to watch:
Places to get information:
(Ukrainian operated newspaper; not affiliated with the Russian government)
https://www.mil.gov.ua/en/ — Ministry of Defense of Ukraine
https://twitter.com/mfa_ukraine — Twitter page of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine
https://twitter.com/DmytroKuleba — Twitter page of Minister of Foreign Affairs