Mark Vodianyi came to West Virginia University less than nine months ago as part of the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program to experience American culture. He leaves behind his school, his parents and their vineyard.
He was due to return home in May.
“I had no idea this trip would be so long and so big and so exciting and sad at the same time,” Vodianyi said.
Vodianyi is from Hrushivka, a village in Ukraine that was not overrun, where he says his parents can still hear artillery fire every day. Yet they refuse to leave because they live off the harvests of their vineyards and they firmly believe that Ukraine will be liberated.
He calls every day to check on his parents.
“I stayed for the summer. I regularly went to the leisure center just to occupy [myself] because the more you train and build muscle, the less you worry about what’s going on in your country. You will have less anxiety.
Vodianyi is just one of many students, eight Ukrainians and 12 Russians, currently residing at the University who may not be able to return home due to the ongoing war.
In March, WVU began accepting donations through the WVU Foundation for students affected by the invasion of Ukraine.
According to April Kaull, executive director of communications, the University received 66 donations to the Barbara Alvis International Student Emergency Fund and the Kenneth and Carolyn Gray Student Emergency Fund, totaling $12,749.
West Virginia University will provide financial aid to Ukrainian and Russian students…
So far, Kaull said the Office of Global Affairs (OGA) has reported that six students have applied for and received funding from the Barbara Alvis International Student Emergency Fund.
This funding has helped students whose savings have been devastated, who need additional financial assistance for their extended stay in the United States, and Russian students who can no longer access bank-linked debit or credit cards Russian. It also helped to find accommodation for students who were unable to return home over the summer, as many other University students usually do.
“WVU has always been a home for students from conflict zones, and we have always done our best to care for them and work with them to understand their specific and individual needs that they may encounter,” Henry Oliver, director of global advancement, said.
In addition to financial and housing assistance, OGA helped students connect with legal representatives to extend their student visas, seek counseling services, and find work opportunities.
“We try to have a one-on-one conversation with them to understand what their specific needs are and then go from there, because I don’t think in these situations there is a one-size-fits-all solution,” Oliver said.
The Carruth Center, WVU’s counseling center, offers psychological support designed for international students in crisis, including an international support group each semester. The Center currently employs a Multicultural Coordinator and Behavioral Health Therapist, whose position was created to better assist students from diverse backgrounds.
Additionally, the Center can connect students with legal services or find multicultural student organizations or events to attend. It can also help international students find university jobs, as many of them are limited to working on campus.
Oliver said the OGA tries to support international students in every way possible, even if they are self-reliant by helping to publicize and share their own student organization’s events and creating cultural programming that introduces them to the local heritage, like taking day trips to West Virginia. .
Vodianyi received help from the OGA to extend her visa and stay in college while completing her studies in the United States. He now works at the office, helping other international students learn about the university.
Although Vodianyi enjoyed his time at WVU, he felt homesick and worried for his family who chose to stay in Ukraine.
At the moment, what is most important for Vodiyani is to talk more about what is happening in Ukraine, to dispel disinformation and propaganda and to give people a voice so that they know how to help them in the better.
Before, Vodianyi planned to finish his studies in Kyiv after his exchange program, but now, knowing that anything can happen, he feels he will be more effective in helping Ukraine by staying in the United States and leading the ” information warfare”.
“While there is an active phase in Ukraine, there is now, simultaneously, an information war between Russia and Ukraine and what is happening. Facts can be manipulated and I feel compelled to the story , to Ukraine, to my family, to the truth,” Vodianyi said.
He said WVU has been helpful in supporting and providing spaces for Ukrainian students to spread their truth, specifically through the Ukrainian Mountaineers Association, which aims to unite people in support of Ukraine.
Oleksandr “Alex” Tsaruk, a Ukrainian professor of strategic management, graduate student and WBU secretary, said the main goal in establishing the organization was to bring together people from all walks of life who are interested in the language. and Ukrainian culture. Tsaruk said there are fewer than 10 Ukrainians in UMA, although there are over 30 members.
The Association organizes many events and meetings, which Vodiyani says are sometimes attended by University faculty and staff, including President E. Gordon Gee and Vice President Maryanne Reed.
Last semester, UMA held a candlelight vigil where students, faculty, and community members joined in prayer, song, and solidarity for Ukraine.
Residents of Morgantown gathered at Woodburn Circle on Monday night for a candlelight vigil in sup…
“I felt something unreal, because I’m here in the United States, far from home, but I hear Ukrainian words and it empowers me, just to continue your fight and to live.”
Vodianyi said WBU also held a rock concert downtown and raised up to $4,000 for Ukrainian refugees.
Tsaruk said that when the war is over, the organization will still exist because he wants other students to learn the truth about Ukrainian culture and history.
“I think we have an obligation to be public diplomats of our culture and our country here. When people look at us, they will judge, ‘What is this country?’ »
Regarding education at the University, Tsaruk said that it is important to call the situation as it is.
“You have to be brave enough to say, ‘The bully is a bully. Imperialism is imperialism. A dictatorship is a dictatorship. A legitimate state is a legitimate state.’”
For now, Tsaruk said he was just trying to be a good student who remembered where he came from.
To contribute to student aid funds, visit give.wvu.edu/ukraine or donate to the WVU Foundation.