Russia began a military invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, escalating the ongoing conflict between the two countries into a full scale war and leaving Ukrainian citizens fearful for their safety and lives.
The severity of this conflict has impacted those at Lehigh who have connections to Ukraine and want to do their part in helping the country survive the harsh realities of this war.
Lehigh professor of finance Olena Nikolsko-Rzhevska and professor of economics Alex Nikolsko-Rzhevskyy, who are married, have family that currently reside in Ukraine.
Nikolsko-Rzhevska said most of her and Nikolsko-Rzhevskyy’s family reside in Odessa, Ukraine, in the southern part of the country.
“They call us multiple times a day and are in a bomb shelter on a regular basis,” Nikolsko-Rzehevka said. “They try to go out and get essentials when the air siren is not on, but other than that they try to stay inside and not go anywhere.”
Nikolsko-Rzhevskyy said his side of the family is in a similar situation. He said they are using their basement as a bomb shelter and have moved their mattresses down there.
Nikolsko-Rzhevska said the death toll of the conflict and the overall experience has been surreal for her.
When the war first started, Nikolsko-Rzhevska said she received a text from her sister telling her that there had been explosions. Nikolsko-Rzhevska said she and her husband were panicked at the time because there was little information on the news and it was difficult to contact friends and family.
Due to the time difference between the U.S. and Ukraine, Nikolsko-Rzhevska said they have not been getting a lot of sleep.
Artem Maryanskyy, ‘23, grew up in southern Ukraine.
Maryanskyy’s parents and grandmother still reside in his hometown of Nova Kakhovka. Once the war started, his two older sisters were able to escape to western Ukraine.
The Russian army currently occupies Maryanskyy’s hometown. He said at 4 a.m. on the first day of the war, hundreds of missiles were fired across Ukraine from Russia.
“Every main city of Ukraine was targeted,” Maryanskyy said. “Their purpose was to take down the air defense systems, however, they destroyed many civilian buildings instead. Unfortunately, the south of Ukraine was the hardest region for the Ukrainian army to defend, that’s why the Russian army captured almost the entire Kherson region during the first day of war.”
Maryanskyy said the region is home to one of the largest chicken farms in the country, with millions of chickens who receive food from reserves outside of the region, so there is high potential for a disaster to ensue.
Maryanskyy said right now there is only enough food for the chickens to be fed for two days, and if there is no resolution, these chickens will starve to death.
“If a million chickens all die at the same time, disaster is bound to occur,” Maryanskyy said. “I am hoping there will be a resolution but the Russians do not seem to care.”
Due to the imposition of martial law in Ukraine, citizens are prohibited from leaving their homes after 5 p.m., and they are not allowed to enter nearby villages, Maryanskyy said.
He said those who leave their homes after the curfew will be shot and many people have already been killed for this reason.
“You are only allowed to travel within your city and my city happens to be really small with only 40,000 residents,” Maryanskyy said. “I know one family from my childhood was trying to escape the region and Russians opened fire and the entire family including the kids, father and mother died.”
Maryanskyy said he has made efforts to support Ukraine. One way is by petitioning the U.S. government to put economic mechanisms in place to stop the war, such as placing sanctions on Belarus.
Although Maryanskyy said he was eager to join a volunteer army when the war began, he realized staying in school and working toward graduating with a computer science degree would serve to help his future and his country.
Nikolsko-Rzhevska and Nikolsko-Rzhevskyy said they have also done what they can to support Ukraine.
Nikolsko-Rzhevska said she writes to congresswoman Susan Wild, who is on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, asking her to take action.
“We feel like we’re still part of this even though we are far away because our families are there,” Nikolsko-Rzhevska said. “This is our homeland.”
Nikolsko-Rzhevskyy currently serves on a counter-propaganda unit and oversees his own team.
“We currently run Facebook ads within Russia and Belarus to show what is actually going on in Russia since all the news and media is state-controlled,” Nikolsko-Rzhevskyy said. “Obviously, Russia bans these websites so we often have to change the links.”
Despite his efforts to help Ukranians while still being in the U.S., Nikolsko-Rzhevskyy said he would trade places with someone currently in Ukraine if he could.
“It physically hurts me that I’m here in safety and I cannot be actively fighting with my childhood friends,” Nikolsko-Rzhevskyy said.