Purdue’s Ukrainian students watch as some family members take up arms
March for Ukraine planned on campus Wednesday, as students try to rally, track a Russian invasion
Just before Dany Shkurupiy walked into a downstairs room Friday afternoon at the Wilmeth Active Learning Center, joining nearly a dozen members of Purdue’s Ukrainian Student Society to make posters and do research for a march on campus next week, the senior chemistry major had been texting with his father in Kyiv.
His mother, who works with the World Bank, was in the United States on a business trip, so she was far from the advancing troops in a Russian invasion that started Thursday morning.
His father, 63, a consultant in Kyiv, was gearing up, as many in Ukraine’s capital city headed to metro stations serving as makeshift bomb shelters.
“Just like 10 minutes ago, he told me that they were handing out weapons to the civilians to form these territorial defense brigades,” Shkurupiy said. “He’s saying he’s out this evening patrolling. His hands are cold or something, because the texts are a bit hard to decipher. But it’s like they’re meant to patrol to detect saboteurs or small-scale diversions – street warfare, essentially, he says.”
How was that, keeping up with shaky texts and social media from the West Lafayette campus?
Shkurupiy said he still can’t believe what’s happening. But he said he was convinced that if Ukrainians could hang on for a week or two, he was holding out hope that Russians wouldn’t have the resources for anything more prolonged, as civilians take up arms and commit to fight.
“(My father)’s probably like others, not in top shape of his life,” Shkurupiy said. “When you’re fighting a war, protecting your territory, you really have nothing to lose at that point. It’s, you know, your home.”
Purdue had five students from Ukraine, as of the start of the fall 2021 semester, according to the university’s Data Digest. The Ukrainian Student Society has a roll of 15 to 20 – many second- and third-generation Americans whose parents or grandparents came to the United States from Ukraine – after reforming two years ago, according to Yaroslav Rosokha, an economics professor and faculty advisor to the club.
This week turned into a series of emergency meetings for the club, as students shared news about distant relatives in Ukraine and figured out ways to rally on campus in the coming week.
“We’re just trying to do anything we can to support Ukraine right now,” Ksenia Lewyckyj, a sophomore from West Lafayette and president of Purdue’s Ukrainian Student Society, said. “One of the best things we can do is spread information about what’s been happening and educate people about the history of Ukraine and the fact that Ukraine really deserves our support and the U.S.’s support.”
Friday night, the students laid out a schedule, including information tables on campus each day next week, nightly films about Ukraine and a campus march at 2 p.m. Wednesday, starting at the Engineering Fountain.
“This is a tough situation for the world,” Mattei Jacks, a junior from Troy, Michigan, said. “On one hand, it’s tragic that thousands of lives are going to be lost in Ukraine. On the other hand, if the U.S. and Europe were to get in, that could potentially lead to a very large-scale war. Either way, it’s very bad, because right now, so many Ukrainian people are suffering. They’re stuck, and they’re not getting any help.”
Jacks said he’d checked in with a friend in Lviv, on the western edge of Ukraine. He’d met her through Plast, a Ukrainian Scout organization, while growing up. He said she and her family had been trying to make plans to fly to Poland to escape, but couldn’t once bombing started.
Rosokha grew up in Kyiv until he and his parents moved to Houston when he was in high school. He has family in Ukraine, including his grandmother, aunt and cousins, and still visits. He said they were mainly in western portions of the country, what he called “probably the safest places right now,” away from Russia’s multi-pronged attack.
“I didn’t think it would happen like this – I think few people did,” Rosokha said. “It wasn't unusual for (the Russians) to gather a lot of their military at the border, but never to this extent. I think most people thought it's more like psychological warfare and were not taking it as seriously as they should have, given the warnings.”
Where does he see it going?
“That’s a really important question, and I think the American people should be asking themselves that question,” Rosokha said. “If (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is successful in taking over the country in what he envisions to be something like Soviet Union 2.0, then it's a big source of manpower, resources, military industrial complex. It's something that I think is not talked about enough, because there's obviously immediate short-term impacts of his actions – we see the gas prices are going up, maybe the prices in general in terms of trading with Russia are going up. But if they are successful and expanding their influence and their country, they will have a lot more bargaining power. … They made the calculation that long term for them, it's better to have control or influence over that part of Europe, no matter what costs are – at least no matter the costs that are currently being imposed.”
Rosokha said he wasn’t sure the Russians were prepared for how the Ukrainian people would ready to fight.
“Maybe they don’t have the same weapons or the equipment,” he said. “But they have a resolve.”
Shkurupiy, on Friday tracking things as his father joined patrols of Kyiv, didn’t expect Russia to go this far. He said he thought that when Putin recognized breakaway states in eastern Ukraine earlier in the week, that would be it.
“Then the next day, when they started bombing Kyiv, I was in disbelief,” Shkurupiy said. “How is this happening? I thought maybe they’re just going to fire at us a couple of times and calm down. But, no. I’m still in disbelief.”
He said he keeps watching for texts from home.
“The fact that you realize all your family is in danger, it’s really unpleasant,” Shkurupiy said. “Especially when you’re here, and you just can’t do anything about it.”
COMING TO CAMPUS: The Ukraine Student Society will host a March for Ukraine at 2 p.m. Wednesday, starting at Purdue’s Engineering Fountain.
The club also will show a series of films about Ukraine, each starting at 8 p.m. in Wilmeth Active Learning Center. Here’s the lineup:
Monday: “Winter on Fire,” WALC 1055
Tuesday: “Mr. Jones,” WALC 1132
Wednesday: “Cyborgs,” WALC 1132
Thursday: “Bitter Harvest,” WALC 1055
Friday: “War in Europe,” WALC 1132
CORRECTION … WABASH RIVER GREENWAY UPDATE: (Note, I messed up the date on this event in Friday’s edition. Here’s a rerun with the correct date.) Draft plans for Tippecanoe County’s section of the Wabash River Greenway Corridor, a 90-mile trail system tracing the Wabash River covering five counties, will be on display from 5-7 p.m. Thursday, March 3, at the West Lafayette Wellness Center, 1101 Kalberer Road. According to the Wabash River Enhancement Corp., the open house will show recent schematic designs and allow comments from Greater Lafayette residents. A final plan for Tippecanoe County’s section of the trail system is expected this spring. For more about the greenway, check www.wabashrivergreenway.com.
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