PROVIDENCE — While lying in a bed at The Miriam Hospital after surgery, Khrystyna Voloshyn could only hear the soft beeping from vital sign monitors as she quietly sobbed. She was in Rhode Island, a world away from the terrors in Ukraine that her sister, a doctor on the frontlines of the war, was describing to her through text messages.
Images of the air raids and bombs demolishing her home village were running through her mind when a surgeon walked into the dimly lit room to check on her. He heard her sobs and offered to pray with her. And to pray for Ukraine.
“And that moment is what has given me strength,” Voloshyn, 30, a graduate student at Johnson & Wales University, recalled recently.
That was earlier in the war, when Russian troops first invaded Ukraine. Droves of women and children fled their homes to neighboring countries like Poland, which welcomed millions of refugees. By some counts, nearly 4,600 civilians have died from explosive weapons, shelling from heavy artillery, and missile and air strikes; the United Nations says the actual figure is likely much higher.
For Ukrainian students studying in the United States, like Voloshyn, concentrating on studies, going to internships, and completing basic daily tasks like showering and eating have been difficult while constantly worrying for their families’ safety. Voloshyn remembered the kindness of the American doctor and looked to her campus of students to encourage them to take action.
When President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded with the US Congress for a no-fly zone and more sanctions, calling on them to “do more,” Voloshyn started rallying her peers on Johnson & Wales’s campus to call their elected officials and demand they close the sky. She corrected people on campus and elsewhere when they called the war a “conflict.”
“This is terrorism,” Voloshyn said. “This is a war. Imagine someone coming into your home and destroying it. Raping your children and women. Killing people. That is not a conflict.”
Voloshyn offered to return to Ukraine, but her parents told her there was no point. Her mother is a tailor who is working at a company that is helping supply armed forces with goods. Her father is enrolled in the defense forces and regularly stands at a checkpoint entrance. Her younger sister, Mariya Voloshyn, 28, is a doctor. She graduated from medical school and finished her residency just in time to be on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. And now she’s on the frontlines of this war.
Ukraine is their home, and they will stay to defend it, Voloshyn said. Each of them refused to leave.
Voloshyn joined a group of baking and pastry arts students during “blue and gold” days, selling baked goods to raise money to send to World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit organization feeding families across Ukraine and Poland. In just two hours, the bake sale raised more than $2,500.
“I felt like I needed to do something while I was here. I feel guilty for being safe in the United States, going to school to better myself,” she said. “But I guess I’m just able to get more done here than I would in Ukraine.”
In the last two weeks, many Ukrainians who fled the early part of Russia’s invasion have returned to their homes. Small businesses and markets have begun to reopen. Many, Voloshyn said, are growing accustomed to the fighting.
But outside the country students like Voloshyn are watching in horror, and wondering whether there could be a future for them in their homeland.
“I’m in constant communication with my family and friends. My home country is under attack,” she said. “Children are being raped by Russian soldiers. And there are dead Ukrainians on the streets.”
More than 1,700 college students in the United States are from Ukraine, according to the Institute of International Education. In early March, the Biden administration allowed Ukrainians who are in the United States to remain in the country for 18 months under a Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation.
“A lot could change (before the TPS is up). This could all be over. Or it could be much worse,” Voloshyn said. She’ll graduate with her master’s degree in 2023. ”Already, a lot of companies are moving out of Ukraine. What is my future if I go back?”
She watches as western media’s coverage of the war dwindles.
“I just hope Americans don’t forget the truth of what is going on in my home. That innocent people are being killed,” she said. “Ukrainians are hard workers. They are good, peaceful people. And we only want this to be over soon.”
Alexa Gagosz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.