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Ukrainian Solidarity Network Created by Four Loyola Students

Courtesy of Elizabeth KyrvokulskyFour Ukrainian American students formed the Ukrainian Solidarity Network, a student organization focused on providing humanitarian aid.

Elizabeth Kryvokulsky gathered around the TV with her family in shock as they watched the news of Russia beginning to invade Ukraine. 

“There was a lot of commotion and it was very overwhelming because you didn’t know what was happening,” Kryvokulsky, 21, said. “It was so hard to even comprehend, that the tears didn’t start until like maybe two hours later, because there was just so much anger, frustration and disgust.” 

Kryvokulsky, a junior accounting major, wasn’t the only student of Ukrainian heritage at Loyola grappling with the events taking place. Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine Feb. 24, four students of Ukrainian heritage have organized together to form the Ukrainian Solidarity Network (USN). 

The group aims to support Ukrainians in need and raise awareness about the history of Ukraine’s ongoing conflict with Russia. 

Stefani Dembereckyj–a junior psychology major with most of her family living in Western Ukraine–is another one of the founding members of USN.

“My parents immigrated to the United States and to Chicago in 1995,” Dembereckyj, 21, said. “But my grandma, two of my dad’s sisters, and all of their kids are still all there.” 

Kryvokulsky said the frustration of not being able to physically support the people of Ukraine eventually compelled her and others to try to form a student organization on campus. 

“We had this power in our hearts to tell everyone about what’s happening and to make sure people understood what is going on,” Kryvokulsky said. 

While the USN is still a very new organization, its future goal is to set up fundraising events where students can donate goods or raise money for credible Ukrainian aid organizations, Kryvokulsky said. 

“We want to try to bring people in and get them involved,” Kryvokulsky said. “We want to teach them about refugee assistance and how to help with humanitarian aid.”

Dembereckyj said another one of the main reasons for founding the organization was a lack of a formal response from Loyola’s administration.  

“We haven’t really seen a school-wide response from the dean or the president to spread awareness from the entire community,” Dembereckyj said. 

Loyola’s Campus Ministry emailed a statement to students Feb. 27 condemning the violence in Ukraine and welcoming students to an Interfaith Prayer Service which took place on Feb. 28. Additionally, a message sent to students through the Kettle Newsletter invited students to a virtual roundtable with Loyola faculty discussing the current crisis in Ukraine on March 1. 

Dembereckyj said the USN isn’t limited to just Ukrainian Americans but to anyone who wants to help and become involved.

“Anyone who wants to can join, whether they want to learn more about Ukraine or just have a space where they want to share their personal experience and have support from the community,” Dembereckyj said. 

While most of her relatives are currently living in Western Ukraine, Kryvokulsky said her aunt and uncle recently fled from Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. 

“It was really hard for them to flee because they got married, moved there and started their life there,” Kryvokulsky said. “It is difficult for anyone to make that decision.”  

Kryvokulsky said she has been able to stay in contact with her extended family still living in Ukraine, including her great aunts and uncles, as well as their children.

“It’s really hard to say good morning, or how’s your day going,” Kryvokulsky said. “When you know that it’s going bad, but you just don’t know how to say it or how to even talk with them.” 

Even though those living in Western Ukraine are away from most of the direct conflict, Kryvokulsky said there is still great concern regarding possible airstrikes in the region. 

Russian missiles struck a Ukrainian military base in Western Ukraine on March 13, just 15 miles from Ukraine’s border with Poland.

Dembereckyj said she’s still able to call her grandmother about two to three times a week. She said her grandmother has still been going outside and to the store, but there have been sirens going off constantly warning of possible bombing threats in the area. 

The Yavoriv military base, which was bombed March 13, is around 35 miles from Lviv, where Dembereckyj’s grandmother lives. 

“Because she is older, she doesn’t necessarily want to leave since she has lived there her entire life,” Dembereckyj said. “I think she’s just trying to have a positive mindset and hope for the best and that’s what we’re all really doing.” 

Kryvokulsky said during the first week of the invasion the unpredictability of what might happen next made it very difficult for her to sleep.

“As a Ukrainian American living here, I am terrified and beyond scared of what’s happening to my country where my parents came from, where my whole family resides from,” Kryvokulsky said. “And that’s my reality here, but I cannot even imagine what they’re going through.” 

Kryvokulsky said one of the biggest projects the USN has undertaken in response is volunteering at the Illinois branch of the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America (UMANA).

UMANA has been working to gather hospital and pharmaceutical supplies for Ukrainians, including antibiotics and respirators, medical supplies which have become much more difficult for Ukrainians to obtain.  

“A lot of us are going without any medical experience but just to pack these things up, because it feels like at least that’s what we can do,” Kryvokulsky said. 

The UMANA organization currently has around 100,000 pounds of medical supplies packaged and ready to be shipped to Ukraine, according to Kyrvokulsky. 

Kryvokulsky said the USN also hopes to provide educational resources for students to visit online to learn more about the conflict between Ukraine and Russia and become more educated on the tensions between the two nations. 

“I would suggest for people to learn a little bit more about Eastern European history,” Kryvokulsky said. “You also need to know who you’re donating to and why.” 

While there used to be a Ukrainian Club active at the university, Dembereckyj said the club disbanded years ago due to low enrollment. 

However, in response to the current crisis occurring in Ukraine, students like Tatia Piller thought it was necessary to bring the club back together. 

Piller, an accounting major, said she felt an obligation to help Ukrainians in need. While Piller is of Russian descent, she said she has family members currently living in Odessa and Kyiv, two major Ukrainian cities. 

“It wasn’t an option for me to stay helpless,” Piller, 32, said. “I just had to gather all my resources and go out and do something about it.” 

Piller, after participating in the virtual roundtable event on March 1, said the professors and faculty at the event were asking students for ideas about how to support Ukrainians in need. Piller shortly after reached out to Student Activities and Greek Life (SAGA) at Loyola to register the Ukrainian Club on campus.

About a week after Piller registered the Ukrainian Club with SAGA, she said she was approached by Ukrainian American students who wanted to form the USN. 

Piller said the fact that the Ukrainian Club registered first didn’t stop the two organizations from coming together. 

“We are in tandem with common goals and the same mission,” Piller said. “People in Ukraine need the same supplies, no matter what organization is helping them.” 

Piller said the Ukrainian Club is hosting a bake sale on Thursday, March 24 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Damen Student Center. The proceeds from the fundraiser will be going towards shipment costs for cargo planes carrying humanitarian supplies gathered by UMANA, according to Piller. 

“The main aim of the Ukrainian Club at the moment is helping raise funds to pay for the cargo plane, so we can continue gathering supplies in storage at UMANA’s warehouse in Chicago once we have more space,” Piller said.

 In addition to fundraising events like the bake sale, Piller said the Ukrainian Club has been approached by multiple organizations in Chicago and outside of the state. 

One of these opportunities is helping put together Build-A-Bear toys for Ukrainian refugees at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Chicago. 

Piller said the Ukrainian Club is also in contact with a church in Phoenix, Arizona, which is currently raising funds for nutrition bars that would be sent to Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines. 

 Dembereckyj said that while the USN is not officially affiliated with the university, it hopes to continue to work together with the Ukrainian Club on working together to create fundraising opportunities for the war in Ukraine. 

“Rather than creating a division, we obviously just want to combine all our efforts to coordinate and cooperate with each other to create a greater organization,” Dembereckyj said. 

“It’s been over 20 days now, and I hate to say this, but it’s starting to feel like the norm and I don’t want it to because Ukraine is a sovereign, independent state,” Kryvoklulsky said. “Ukrainian Americans, especially my generation, don’t want conflict. I don’t know if it’s going to be possible, but obviously we have to start working towards that.” 

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