War in Ukraine saddens Northeastern Russian, Ukrainian community, students advocate for support


Avery Bleichfeld

When news of the war broke on campus, students were quick to gather in protest and to raise money to support Ukraine, with students demonstrating in Centennial Commons.

Crescent Huang, news staff

Merely two months into a brand new year, a war between a global superpower and its neighboring nation has created agitation and turmoil across the world. 

Russian forces attacked Ukraine Feb. 24.  President Vladimir Putin said in a speech earlier that morning that he felt unsafe due to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO’s, eastern expansion and military forces nearing the Russian border.

“While the North Atlantic alliance continues to expand despite our protest and concern, it’s military machine is moving and as I said is approaching our very border,” Putin said. 

Russia’s attack has resulted in international despair. Although Boston is far from the crisis, many within the Northeastern community feel affected by the war. 

Katya Burvikova, a Russian professor who teaches the language at Northeastern and the University of New Hampshire, said many of her Russian friends are scared of the potential consequences of the war. 

“I have a lot of friends from Russian-speaking countries. [I have] friends from Russia, I have friends from Ukraine. So we keep discussing what is going on in our homelands,” Burvikova said. “I, of course, want the war to end very soon. If it doesn’t end soon, it’s very hard to imagine what’s going to happen. Definitely, it’s devastating for Ukraine, because we see all these people dying and suffering.” 

Other Russian and Ukrainian members of the Northeastern community feel that, though the university has sent out emails to ease the tensions on campus, they could do more to spread awareness. 

Georgy Orlov, a fifth-year journalism major from Russia, said from his perspective the university made Russian and Ukrainian students feel supported and cared for by the community. Orlov said the university’s support could help destigmatize negative feelings toward Russian people.  

“They did send out an email saying that all the Russian students are welcome to the Office of Global Services given the circumstances and the sanctions,” Orlov said. “Honestly, it might help to just understand that the Russians here, [the] majority of Russians here, don’t support the war.”

Burvikova agreed that many Russian citizens, especially those in the United States, are opposed to the actions of the Russian government. 

“First, people couldn’t believe what was going on, they felt very ashamed of the governmental actions and propaganda from the state TV. In big cities, Russians started to protest, but they got beaten for openly expressing their disagreement,” she said. “It’s important to remember that not everyone supports Putin, that so many Russians oppose this war, but have no way to express it. Now we all feel a lot of hopelessness and anger over the death and destruction.”

Orlov also said the majority of Russian students who are studying are here for a more politically liberal education. 

“Just keep in mind that the Russians who are here are here for a reason. And that reason is most likely due to them being more liberal and more progressive,” Orlov said. 

Addressing several Russian historical events, Orlov said he believes that people need to observe matters from two perspectives and not merely think about the political ideology. 

Orlov is not personally worried about the economic sanctions imposed on Russia which limit the country’s access to the U.S. financial system because he saved up some money before the conflict started. However, he has concerns about inflation in Russia. 

“With the Russian [prices] going through the roof … and with the ruble just going down the drain, I think it will affect me, sooner or later. [The value of Ruble] has fallen like 40% at this point.”

Despite the grim situation that Russian students and staff are facing, students from Ukraine also face a difficult and disturbing reality. 

Diana Zlotnikova, a fourth-year finance and corporate innovation major, organized the peace march for Ukraine in Boston. She said she hopes the university will not simply empathize with the Ukrainian community but also take action to spread awareness across the campus and city. 

“Spreading awareness is really important for us,” she said. “The scariest thing for us is just to get forgotten.” 

Zlotnikova emphasized that spreading awareness within social communities like clubs and organizations would be a valuable contribution to Ukrainian students and staff. 

It’s very hard to have any kind of meaningful connection with someone outside of the community because right now we don’t have a common tongue. People worry about school as they should be worrying about school. We are worried about life and death situations.

— Diana

“It’s very hard, seeing that for most people on campus and … in the world, it’s very hard seeing that life goes on for them that nothing really happened to them,” Zlotnikova said. “It’s very hard to have any kind of meaningful connection with someone outside of the community because right now we don’t have a common tongue. People worry about school as they should be worrying about school. We are worried about life and death situations.” 

Zlotnikova is not the only one who thinks Northeastern should provide more support to Ukrainian students. Deanna Zawadiwsky, a fifth-year economics and psychology combined major as well as the president of the Ukrainian Cultural Club, also said she thinks the university should provide not just mental health support, but also substantial economic and emotional support. 

“A lot of the Ukrainian students who live in Ukraine and international students who love Ukraine are both here at Northeastern and have sent a letter asking for three different things,”  Zawadiwsky said. 

Firstly, they ask that tuition for Ukrainian International students be waived: Ukrainian students who haven’t paid their fall tuition yet, should not have to pay under these circumstances. Secondly, they ask that the university ease the academic requirements for Ukrainian students. Lastly, students want to make sure that there is increased awareness around school so that others can help and support.

Focusing on school is hard, when you have no contact with your family and don’t know if they are alive,” the letter explained.

Zlotnikova said she understands people have different political opinions and some will have an unconcerned attitude when they are not directly part of the conflict. 

“There is a great saying, people are only apolitical while it doesn’t affect them,” she said. “So the moment things start affecting them, that’s when they stop being apolitical. And I saw that a lot in the community. A lot of people would be supporting what’s happening in Ukraine and then the moment all the banks decided to ban Russia from transactions, that’s when they started saying, ‘Oh, what’s been [happening] is horrible.’” 

As a student and community member, Zlotnikova doesn’t want to see people make everything turn into a political issue. She said people should love others around them no matter their political stance. 

“It’s very important to have compassion. It’s very important to love the person next to you, no matter what,” Zlotnikova said. 

The war between Russia and Ukraine hasn’t weakened the Ukrainian community at Northeastern. Zlotnikova said it’s uniting Ukrainians more than ever.  

“Before the war happened, I wasn’t even a member of any kind of Russian or Ukrainian … groups at Northeastern. But right now it has become such a strong support system because we are sharing information, we are supporting each other,” Zlotnikova said. “We are telling each other it’s going to be fine, our parents are going to be fine or our homes are going to be fine. It’s all going to be alright. And without this support system, it would be so much harder to function really on a day-to-day basis.”

When the war started, Zlotnikova gathered with her Ukrainian roommate and their fellow Ukrainian friends at their apartment. Together, they sat in silence, surrounded by the knowledge that the people who were sitting next to them were going through the exact same thing they were. 

“It’s so important for every one of us just to feel seen and just to feel like we can deal with this somehow,” Zlotnikova said. 

As midterms and school work accumulate this time of the year, the Ukrainian community is communicating with the school about the support they can provide. 

Zawadiwskay, the president of the Ukrainian Culture Club, explained that life for Ukrainian students is exceptionally difficult and it is unnecessary for the university to put more burdens on them. 

“Everything at home is already getting destroyed. [Ukrainian families are] already pulling pennies in order to pay the tuition here in the U.S. and any money that they do have, they don’t want to be spending it suddenly into a school that has billions of dollars but sending it over to Ukraine where it really does matter will make a change,” Zawadiwskay said.

Despite the seemingly bleak future, Zawadiwsky said she has faith in the members of the Ukrainian community, but she doesn’t want outsiders to ignore the conflict. 

“When you watch TV, and you turn on the news, and you watch something horrifying, you hear something terrible. Don’t look away,” she said. “There’s always that quote that says, ‘ignorance is bliss,’ but ignorance does not cause change. And right now, we are at a crucial point in history where we are here and able to change the trajectory of what’s going on in Ukraine.”