‘We don’t want people to forget’: Loyola’s Ukrainian Club Reflects on its Progress as War’s Anniversary Approaches

Nearly a year later, Loyola’s Ukrainian Club aims to continue its mission of fundraising and raising awareness for those affected by war in Ukraine.

Loyola’s Ukrainian Club is still aiming to spread awareness and fundraise in support of Ukrainians in need nearly a year after the onset of the Russia-Ukraine war. 

The conflict, which began with Russia’s military advance last year, has caused a total of 17,831 reported civilian casualties in Ukraine, including 6,884 deaths and 10,947 injured, according to a December 2022 report from the Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

Soon after news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reached Loyola’s campus, four students joined together in late February 2022 to create the Ukrainian Solidarity Organization (USN), The Phoenix previously reported. 

Around the same time, other Loyola students of Ukrainian heritage worked together to restart the Ukrainian Club at Loyola, an organization which hadn’t been present at the university for several years due to scheduling conflicts among interested students. 

Dania Hrynewycz, a senior political science major, is the co-president of the Ukrainian Club. She said the USN has decided to temporarily disband since last year to focus on increasing the presence of Ukrainian students and Ukrainian culture at Loyola, rather than trying to form a network within Chicago’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood. 

“Because we couldn’t get official standing with the university and because we wanted to be more of a network of people within Ukrainian Village, we decided to kind of put that on hiatus and put our energy towards the Ukrainian Club at Loyola,” Hrnewycz said.

Hrynewcyz said she has family who live in western Ukraine near the Polish border. She said a series of missile launches deployed across Ukraine Nov. 15 caused her family members to lose power, making it difficult to reach them for a time. 

“It’s evident that they are hurting, that they are terrified,” Hrynewcyz said. “But there is really nothing more that can be done in their eyes other than to keep moving.” 

Anna Krasiy, a senior human resources management major, is the other co-president of Ukrainian Club. Krasiy said while her immediate family moved to the United States around 20 years ago, most of her extended family still lives in Western Ukraine, and has also experienced regular power outages and warning sirens about possible airstrikes. 

“Even when I’m calling, I can hear the alarms going off in the background,” Krasiy said. “It’s kind of scary, but for them it’s their reality.” 

She said her cousin, who was working as a truck driver within Poland during the time of Russia’s invasion, was able to relocate to Skokie, Illinois — a suburb of Chicago — around six months ago. 

Krasiy said his decision to seek refuge in the United States allowed him to avoid serving in the military, as Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky instituted a policy in late February 2022 that restricted men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country, according to the Associated Press

Krasiy said Ukrainian Club has kept its main goal of fundraising and volunteering, but has shifted its focus towards providing a safe communal space for those affected by the conflict. 

“I think when it first started last year we focused a lot on what we can do for volunteering and action right away because everyone wanted to help,” Krasiy said. “When we just started we were focusing on main events, but now we are focusing on more social things to be there for each other in these hard times.” 

Krasiy said she has seen a number of businesses and residences around Chicago displaying the Ukrainian flag, which has been encouraging. Krasiy also pointed to a series of five virtual panel discussions that have taken place over the past several months through Loyola’s Office for Global and Community Engagement as an indication of the university’s acknowledgement and recognition of the conflict. 

The Ukrainian Club has continued their relationship with the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America (UMANA) throughout the past year in gathering hospital and pharmaceutical supplies — such as antibiotics and respirators — for the people of Ukraine, according to Hrynewcyz.  

“In the last couple of months we have had several volunteer opportunities where we have gone to warehouses in the suburbs of Chicago and helped pack med kits and sort things,” Hrynewycz said. “We joined a whole consortium of volunteers.” 

Dr. Maria Hrycelak is the foundation president for UMANA. She said the Illinois branch of the organization has been one of the most active chapters in raising medical donations since the start of the war. 

UMANA’s most recent fundraising update lists the total accrued donations over the past year equivalent to around 350 tonnes of medical supplies, carried over five different cargo plane shipments to Ukraine, according to the organization’s website.

Hrycelak said the response from the American general public initially was tremendous, but has since decreased around 80% over the past year. She said after about May or June, UMANA experienced a sharp drop in the amount of support it received. 

“We still get individual support from hospitals if we approach them,” Hrycelak said. “I hate to admit it, but people in America have their own problems.” 

Hrycelak pointed to several domestic issues within the United States, such as increases in gas prices and inflation — which are both a result of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict — as factors which have caused people to be less able to donate. 

However, Hrycelak said the organization has been able to expand its contacts within Ukraine and even open a warehouse in the country, reducing shipping costs. Additionally, the organization has begun buying medical supplies from surrounding European nations, including Poland and Belgium, which have cheaper prices than in the U.S. 

Moving ahead, Hrycelak said the organization is going to continue its mission of gathering and providing resources for Ukrainians in need abroad and those who have become refugees.  

“The future goals are still to continue to aid as much as we can,” Hrycelak said. “There really is really no end in sight that we know of.” 

Chloe Rafferty, a sophomore journalism major, is the tabling manager for Ukrainian Club. She said the organization has advertised the club and its fundraising efforts through setting up a table in the Damen Student Center every two or three weeks during the fall semester to spread information about the club and also to help gather donations.   

“Definitely when the war started we were getting more attention,” Rafferty said. “But as it went on, it’s been less, usually it’s just professors or students who are usually Eastern European or Ukrainian who are thanking us for supporting the cause.”  

Rafferty said each of these tabling events, which the club hopes to begin soon for the spring semester, have helped raise around $100 in donations for Ukrainian aid organizations — such as UMANA. 

During Easter of last year, Hrnewycz said the Ukrainian Club put together baskets of candy, toys and crafts for newly arrived refugee children at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Chicago. 

“We wanted to help them feel a little bit more at home and to help them feel a little bit more connected to the culture they would have experienced at home in Ukraine had been able to stay,” she said.  

Another event Ukrainian Club members became involved in April was helping pack close to 44,000 pounds of necessary supplies and materials for Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines through the Hromovytsia Ukrainian Dance Ensemble of Chicago

“We helped the dancers and church leadership pack boxes full of new clothing, food, non-perishables, medical supplies, toiletries, anything the soldiers might have needed on the front,” Hrynewycz said. 

Dr. Emily Anderson is an associate professor at Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine and the faculty advisor for Ukrainian Club. Anderson became involved with the organization after meeting with interested students at a virtual discussion on the outbreak of the war hosted by the Political Science Department last year. 

Since then, Anderson said the organization has taken on the important role of providing a place for students who have experienced the war on a personal level to come together. 

“In the early days of the war, things like sharing food with each other or doing Ukrainian art together seemed very frivolous,” Anderson said. “And I think now I have tried to encourage the group to do more of those things together to take care of their mental health and to celebrate their culture.” 

Anderson said another goal of the Ukrainian Club is to stand in solidarity with other global communities who have been affected by war and share similar goals, such as raising donations for medical supplies or other resources. 

The club provides an opportunity for students to have different kinds of conversations outside of the classroom and to stay informed on global issues, which Anderson said is important for college students on any campus. 

Hrynewycz said she has seen a renewed interest in club membership as the one year anniversary of the war, which will take place on Feb. 24, approaches. She also said there seems to be a greater emphasis being placed on discussing the Ukrainian conflict around campus. 

“I know that in my classes, Ukraine has been brought up a lot more, which is a bit bittersweet,” Hrynewcyz said. “As a Ukrainian, I am glad we are shining a spotlight on the war, but I kind of wish we didn’t have to talk about it in these circumstances.” 

Ukrainian Club hosts bi-weekly meetings on Sundays in the Crown Center’s Language Learning Resource Center from 5 to 6 p.m. and invites all Loyola students to join, regardless of whether or not they are of Ukrainian heritage. 

The club will also be hosting a bake sale event on Friday, Feb. 24 to fundraise on the war’s anniversary from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Damen. 

Krasiy said members of Ukrainian Club will also be attending a protest in Chicago on Feb. 24, located at St. Volodymyr and Olha Cathedral Square located at 739 N Oakley Blvd in the Ukrainian Village at 6:30 p.m. The protest will be followed by a candlelight prayer at 7:30 p.m. at St. Nicholas Cathedral, located at 835 N Oakley Blvd.  

“It’s hard to watch and it’s even harder to be so far away and so far removed from it,” Hrnewcyz said. “I can have a little peace of mind knowing that I am doing what I can here in terms of spreading the word and keeping the war in people’s minds.” 

Featured image courtesy of Dania Hrynewycz

Jacob Danielson

Jacob Danielson