The Tech speaks with Ukrainian students regarding Russia’s invasion

Horokh: ‘I wait everyday for messages from friends and family to know they’re still alive’

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MIT community members gather at Stata Ampitheater to stand in solidarity with Ukraine at a rally organized by the Ukrainian students of MIT, Monday.
Rila Shishido
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Ukrainian students organize the MIT community Rally for Ukraine protesting Russia's attack, Monday.
Rila Shishido

The Tech spoke with Ukrainian students Sasha Horokh ’25, Ether Bezugla ’22, Artem Laptiev ’25, Mariia Smyk ’23, Anita Dey Barsukova ’22, and supporter Nikita Romanov ’23 about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, its effects, and their lives since. The following are excerpts from the interview, edited for length and clarity.

Since the interviews were conducted, the MIT administration has sent an email to Ukrainian students. The email stated that all Ukrainian students should have been contacted by a dean from Student Support Services (S3). Ukrainian undergraduate students will have their spring term work contributions waived, and graduate students will be provided similar financial support. Ukrainian students can request more meal swipes and work with S3 or GradSupport to lighten their academic loads. The MIT International Students Office will also assist with legal questions, and a candlelight rally is being planned in collaboration with MIT’s Chaplain to the Institute, Thea Keith-Lucas.

The Tech: How has the invasion of Ukraine affected you and those you care about?

Sasha Horokh: The invasion has stopped all of our lives. Nothing before this matters anymore. Seeing Ukraine free and safe again is all that matters. When I heard about the Russian invasion, I contacted my parents in Ukraine but could not reach them. My older sister who studies in Germany was able to get to my parents. Our parents got up, could hear bombs. My mom grabbed my younger sister, and they started driving West. They tried to enter Poland, then Slovakia, and then finally got into Hungary. My dad is staying in Kyiv and preparing for when Russians try to enter the city. My grandparents live in Sumy, in eastern Ukraine where there are lots of Russian troops and fighting. My granddad is a surgeon in a hospital and has had to shelter in a basement because Russians are shooting kindergartens, orphanages, hospitals, and shelters. I wait everyday for messages from friends and family to know they’re still alive.

Ether Bezugla: Ukrainian students at MIT have come together in one place. We sleep together, constantly check the news, make sure everyone is eating, and ensure everyone and their families are doing okay. It’s eerie to see people walking around MIT talking about clubs and psets. That does not exist for us. Our world is shaken. My extended family is in Ukraine. Half of my grandparents are in Kharkiv, where there is heavy shelling. My other grandparents are in Oleksandriya, where it’s more rural.

Artem Laptiev: The kindergarten my sister goes to was bombed. I lived in Kharkiv, very close to the border. In the news, I see my streets being bombed and bombared. I’m always checking in with my family and doing what I can. My parents and sister were outside Ukraine when the invasion started. My grandparents live in a village that’s been occupied since the start. It feels like anything can happen at any moment. My friends are hiding in subways, fleeing to the West, and fighting back. 

Mariia Smyk: My mom and grandma had to relocate, and it was very hard to convince them to. My grandma was scared of leaving, but an explosion right next to her house changed her mind. My mom and grandma moved from Kyiv to Lviv, in Western Ukraine, which is now packed with refugees. They are now trying to cross the border out of Ukraine into Poland.

Anita Dey Barsukova: The father’s side of my family is Ukrainian and living in Kyiv. My family lived in apartments in the city but fled to their summer home on the outskirts of the city once the bombing started. My grandpa was flown out a week before the invasion from an airport that has now been bombed.

Nikita Romanov: Most of my family is in Russia, and many Russians have friends and family in Ukraine. It’s heartbreaking to hear stories of what’s going on. My girlfriend is from Kharkiv, one of the main cities under siege. It’s hard to focus. I’m always opening and following the news, but it’s no comparison to what my Ukrainian friends feel.

TT: Have you been involved in any activism or taken action since the invasion?

Horokh: We will have rallies everyday until Ukraine is free. I’ve been interviewed several times to talk about Russian crimes and how to support Ukraine. I’ve been part of reaching out to MIT to demand a letter of support, public statement, and further actions.

Bezugla: All of the Ukrainian students have banded together to organize rallies around Boston, organize students, talk to administration, and pressure MIT to sever connections to Russian oligarchs and industry. We want actions from MIT such as paid leave for Ukrainian graduate students and financial support for Ukrainian undergraduates. We created a template for contacting government representatives, dorms, and clubs. We’ve all been doing so much all the time.

Laptiev: I was finishing a pset when I heard the news. Ukrainian students immediately gathered, got no sleep, and strategized about what we can do. We started connecting with organizations and rallying everyday. We are trying to get universities around the U.S. and the world to coordinate their actions.

Smyk: I’ve been going to a lot of protests, organizing, and coordinating different efforts. I’ve been connecting with and trying to support people back home. I’m very worried about my financial situation because I might have to buy tickets for my relatives out of Ukraine on a whim.

Barsukova: I’m part of MIT Ukrainian Folk Dance, a recognized student group. We are working on setting up a giving page through MIT and working with Student Organizations, Leadership, and Engagement to do MIT-vetted fundraising. I’ve been helping with setting up rallies and working on setting up a fundraising event involving MIT dance groups.

Romanov: I try to spread information about this war in Russia and show support for my Ukrainian friends. A lot of Russians did not choose Putin or the war and are trying to help. During a protest, I had a message saying, “Russians, listen to your Ukrainian family and friends, not Putin.”

TT: How do you feel about stances or actions taken by MIT administration, MIT departments, and/or MIT students?

Horokh: MIT has not done enough. MIT must break collaborations with and stop funding Russian projects. MIT needs to support Ukrainian students, no questions asked. MIT students have and should continue to sign petitions, join rallies, speak up, and contact professors, advisors, and anyone else in positions of power.

Bezugla: I’m extremely grateful for all the emails and messages of support. There is still so much MIT can do to support its students. We need to pressure MIT to talk more publicly. I’m also very grateful to MIT students who have attended rallies and supported us in other ways.

Laptiev: The MIT administration did more than other universities but not nearly enough. This is not a war between Russia and Ukraine; it’s a war between Russia and basic human rights, freedom, and world peace. MIT’s response has not adequately understood the scope. We have a list of demands; we want a public stance, divestment from Russia, and support for Ukrainian students.

Smyk: I love MIT students; they’ve shown us great support and have been very nice. The MIT community is very good at coming together and helping each other. Several departments, including Physics, Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Urban Studies and Planning have sent out messages of support.

Barsukova: I appreciate MIT being as supportive as they have been and canceling the MIT Skoltech Program. I understand that non-international Ukrainian students are hard to identify, but I don’t think there’s been any attempt to reach out or identify us.

Romanov: I know that some Ukrainian students following MIT administration’s actions closely aren’t satisfied. My Ukrainian friends at MIT are having sleepless nights and trying to do as much as possible to aid their country. MIT could definitely take steps to alleviate academic stress, possibly with PE/NE grading.

TT: What do you hope the MIT community does or takes away from this situation?

Horokh: What’s happening in Ukraine is everybody’s responsibility. There is a nuclear threat due to fighting near nuclear reactors and spent fuel, and radiation levels are already elevated. Putin’s cruelty cannot go unpunished; the world has known about this for eight years. Russian aggression is not just a Ukrainian problem. I want the world to see the power of a united people, willing to do anything to protect our home and loved ones.

Bezugla: I have a lot of hope that everyone bands together and realizes that these issues are impacting their friends and people they know.

Laptiev: The MIT administration must realize how unprecedented this situation is and treat it accordingly. It touches all of us and will only become a greater presence in our lives. Ukraine is an incredible example of bravery and commitment to ideals, and I hope the world and the MIT community realize this.

Smyk: We want MIT administration to take a public stance on the invasion in MIT News and newspapers and to collaborate with other universities on taking action. We want the MIT Institution and Corporation to share their connections to and investments in Russian projects and companies. We want MIT to divest from its connections to Russian oligarchs and military. We also want MIT to support students financially.

Barsukova: I’ve been really encouraged by the support and seeing how many people come out. It’s easy to feel like Ukraine is a small country that people don’t care about. I hope people keep fundraising, raising awareness, and mobilizing to provide real and immediate help to people in Ukraine.

Romanov: War is terrifying and horrible, but I think most people here should know that already. It’s been great to see the support and magnitude of the rallies both at MIT and in Boston.

The following is a series of links to support Ukraine:
The following document contains resources the MIT community can use to support Ukraine: