Campus students, researchers voice concerns over Russia-Ukraine war

Photo of a protest against war in Ukraine
Kyle Garcia Takata/Staff
Students are advocating for campus to support Ukraine in multiple ways, including sending out donation links and communicating with impacted students.

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Six days after Russia invaded Ukraine, UC Berkeley students and researchers from Russia and Ukraine rallied to express concerns over the humanitarian crisis and the inadequate support from campus.

About 20 campus students and researchers rallied in front of Sproul Hall on Monday and Tuesday chanting “Stand With Ukraine” and holding signs with slogans such as “Stop Putin, Stop War” and “Support Ukraine, Save Lives.” They also gave out flyers urging passersby to donate to humanitarian funds and to fund protective equipment for local defense units and the Ukrainian army.

“A lot of people might not have connections to Ukraine, so the ongoing war may feel distant to them,” said campus freshman Max Vaysburd at the rally. “We want to show them that this is personal for a lot of people.”

Vaysburd noted his family members and friends are stuck in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and are unable to flee.

Sofiia Surzhak, a campus freshman from Ukraine, also expressed concerns for her family and friends in Ukraine.

“My family is trapped in Ukraine,” Surzhak said. “My family is not fleeing, because men cannot flee the country and my mum would not leave without my dad.”

Surzhak added her father is not currently in the army because he has no experience, but he might join the army in the future.

“My aunt lives two mins away from the bombing,” Surzhak said. “She and her 6-year-old son are trapped without electricity for the fifth day.”

Igor Chirikov, senior researcher and director of the Student Experience in the Research University Consortium, added there are a lot of uncertainties among students with ties in Ukraine, mostly about their families and friends.

“Students show overwhelming support (at the rally),” Chirikov said. “We saw people taking pictures, coming to ask how they can help.”

Chirikov added campus can provide mental health care and help to adjust course schedules so that students and faculty have fewer worries over classes while they are worried about their loved ones.

In addition, campus should check in with all Ukrainian students and make sure they have funds available to support them, he said.

“Berkeley has a history of anti-war activism,” Chirikov said. “Nobody wants this war. Everybody wants Ukraine to be a happy and prosperous country.”

According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, Berkeley International Office sent out emails to students and scholars from Russia and Ukraine showing support and providing counseling service information Feb. 22 and Feb. 24.

While the Berkeley Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee released a statement in support of Ukrainian students and scholars Feb. 22, Vaysburd said UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ should speak out as well, adding that the MIT president has sent out a public statement to stand with Ukraine and cut ties with Russian academic partners.

Maksym Zubkov, a campus Ukrainian graduate student in the mathematics department, said he was “incredibly disappointed” and felt “left out” at the lack of response from UC Berkeley officials.

“I’m trying to reach out to the UC Berkeley community to ask (the) UC Berkeley chancellor to speak out, just to speak, because she’s our leader. She is the representative for (campus), and then she is silent for six days,” Zubkov said. “That’s really painful for me.”

Zubkov comes from Ukraine and has been partnering with his brother and friends in Ukraine to fundraise to support rent and daily necessities for low-income families and animal shelters in his hometown of Chernomorsk and Odessa.

Zubkov noted he sent an email to Christ on Sunday and went to several departments, California Hall and University House on Tuesday, hoping to talk to campus officials but was unable to reach any of them directly.

“I am desperate to talk to someone because I just need some sort of support,” Zubkov said. “I just didn’t find that support on campus.”

Meanwhile, campus senior Borya Sobolev said many Russian students support Ukraine, but they feel “isolated” because there is no campus announcement supporting them.

Zubkov said campus should communicate with Ukrainians and the impacted students.

“This is a heartbreaking moment that touches many students and people’s hearts, for Russians and many friends in Ukraine,” Sobolev said, adding that public support for Ukraine can mean up to 20 years in prison for Russian citizens now.

There are many ways campus can help Ukrainians, such as direct donation, providing scholarships and sending out a campuswide email with donation links and concrete steps to support Ukrainians, Sobolev added.

Students can support the people of Ukraine by attending rallies and donating to humanitarian funds, Vaysburd said. Vaysburd noted rallies are important because they drive governments to continue sending aid to Ukraine.

“If people can donate even a dollar, that would mean a lot,” Surzhak said.

Several campus departments — including Haas School of Business and Slavic Languages and Literature — released statements condemning the Russian invasion and supporting impacted campus members. The campus Institute of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies has also provided a list of donation links on its website and will host a virtual panel discussion on Ukraine on Wednesday at 4:15 p.m.

Gilmore added that Berkeley News and Berkeley Blog have shared several stories and interviews with Ukrainian scholars and students. Dania Matos, campus vice chancellor for equity and inclusion, also released a statement in solidarity Tuesday evening. She invites impacted students and scholars to join a virtual meeting Friday at 10 a.m. to discuss how the UC Berkeley campus can best stand with and support them.

“This is a humanitarian catastrophe. We cannot be a bystander.” Sobolev said at the rally. “War and military aggression should never be a solution in a civilized world.”

Contact Winnie Lau at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @winniewy_lau.