On February 24, 2022, the Russian Federation launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that, as of February 21 of this year, millions of Ukrainian civilians have sought refuge outside of the country. Hundreds of thousands have arrived in Canada as a result of the conflict.
In interviews with The Varsity, Ukrainian students at U of T reflected on the actions the university has taken to accommodate displaced Ukrainian students and on their country’s prospects for victory.
Nadiya Kovalenko, the president of the Ukrainian Students Club at U of T, spoke positively about U of T’s effort to financially support displaced students from Ukraine but also voiced criticisms regarding the lack of continued support provided for these students.
After the war broke out, U of T offered Ukrainian students assistance through the Emergency Grants program. Beyond financial aid, U of T offered a summer research program for computer science students from Ukraine in 2022 and plans to hold the program again this summer. The university has also welcomed over 200 Ukrainian students as part of an exchange with the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Citing the safety risk for students who return to Ukraine after their program is completed or their funding has elapsed, Kovalenko noted that, while the university’s efforts have been commendable thus far, “[U of T] can do more. They can do better.” Kovalenko suggested that the university offer U of T students from Ukraine additional opportunities to continue their education, like scholarships or grants, “because a lot of them are literally just going back to the war zone.”
Other Ukrainian students held the university’s public relations efforts in support of Ukraine in high regard. Anna Lysenko, a third-year international relations specialist, said the Munk School of Global Affairs’ various events hosting prominent pro-Ukranian speakers was “important to making sure that Ukraine stays in people’s consciousness.”
The university hosted several speakers of note, including current Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in June 2022. U of T President Meric Gertler also released a statement on March 1, 2022, shortly after the invasion, strongly condemning the Russian invasion and highlighting the university community’s “special connection to Ukraine.”
Despite the current static nature of the conflict, Lysenko is among several Ukrainian students who expressed optimism about the outcome of the war to The Varsity. She explained that her assessment of the outcome of the invasion comes from two conflicting viewpoints: the perspective of an international relations student and the perspective of her Ukrainian identity.
While believing in Ukraine’s ultimate victory, Lysenko acknowledged that “it’s unlikely the situation will end anytime soon, or at least end in a way that satisfies both sides, both right and wrong.”