By Barbara Patrocinio and Angelina Kochatovska
On this same day last year, Russian forces invaded Ukraine, sparking a conflict that is now entering its second year.
For international students from Ukraine, dealing with all the feelings connected to this new reality while still trying to succeed in their studies was beyond overwhelming.
Yaroslav Zemlianko is a Humber postgraduate student in the global business management program.
He came to Canada in 2021 from his native city, Sumy, about 330 kilometres east of the capital Kyiv.
He recalled sleeping in his room in Toronto when he heard the news Russia’s invasion.
“I woke up to the news of the war, and I immediately tried to reach out to my family and friends in Ukraine,” he said.
Zemlianko says before the war actively started, his Canadian classmates at Humber would often mistake him as Russian. He said nobody makes that mistake anymore.
“This war is a chance to open the eyes of the world. It is an identity war, fought by people who believe in democracy. It is a war for freedom that shows how different Ukraine is from Russia,” he said.
Zemlianko’s father passed away three weeks ago due to health complications. He thinks his father’s condition was he previously had that were worsened by the stress prompted by the war and the COVID-19 pandemic.
For Oksana Serendeko, a Humber student in the acting for film and television program, hearing about the war was a surreal moment.
She is from Kropyvnytskyi, a city about 300 kilometres from Kyiv, and came to Canada in September 2021.
Serendeko was in her student residence at the campus when she heard a friend wailing and crying really hard in despair.
Serendeko then texted their group chat asking about what happened, and that was when she learned about the war.
“My immediate instinct was to find everybody who was living at the residence who was from Ukrainian descent and just be with my friends,” she said.
“Everybody was trying to get in touch with their loved ones in Ukraine. Some people were uncontrollably sobbing,” Serendeko said.
She says when reading week came, international students from Ukraine used this time to follow the news and keep up on what was happening in their homeland.
They put together a group called Ukrainian Society to better address the community’s interests.
- Ukrainian students in GTA rally support for international students
- Fashion student organizes art show to raise money for Ukrainian relief
“We as students have asked Humber for many concessions because some students lost their parents, their lives and homes, and we are specifically asking for a lowering the tuition fees, or to pay what a domestic student would pay,” Serendeko said.
“Right now, Canada is our home. Being here and not having enough support hasn’t been great,” she said.
Kateryna Sheludko, from Kyiv, is a Humber student in the advertisement and graphic design program. She was in Toronto when it all started.
“I was glad to be here, but at the same time, I wish to be there with my family. I was scared to be alone in Canada for the rest of my life if something happened to them,” Sheludko said.
She faced the start of the war in her homeland in the week of her final exams.
- Humber to offer support for students dealing with the Russian-Ukrainian war
- Humber’s Ukrainian student club ramps up services to answer calls for help
For her, the support from Humber Faculty was essential.
“All my professors were super respectful and supportive, and I got help from the International Centre about my immigration status,” Sheludko said.
And although the war has just reached its one-year mark, for her, it seems to have been a much longer time.
“I’m just one year older, but in my heart and soul, I feel that I’m actually 10 years older,” she said.
Sheludko was able to visit her family in Ukraine in July, 2022.
Andrew Ness, the Dean of International Students at Humber College, said Humber has resources to help Ukrainian students.
“We just finished the process of rewarding the Ontario-Ukraine Solidarity scholarships. For the students who weren’t awarded, other bursaries are available. Right now, any extra bursary funding we can find we are devoting to Ukrainian students,” he said.
“It is important to emphasize that sometimes it is hard to ask for help. It is hard to know who to ask, what to ask, and sometimes it is uncomfortable saying that you need help. But the only way the college can really work on it is if students step up and come to speak with us,” Ness said.