Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 surprised Hillsdale alumnus Sergei Bosyk.
“Everyone was convinced the troops on the border were a bluff and no one believed that the invasion would happen. Everyone thought it was ridiculous,” Bosyk said. “It was a huge shock when it happened.”
Bosyk, who graduated in 2018, lives in Lviv, where war efforts have upended his work and daily life. Bosyk grew up in Ukraine and said he always dreamed of coming to the United States. When his English teacher in Lviv suggested he attend Hillsdale, Bosyk eagerly applied.
“I feel like I experienced true America more than if I were to have gone to a bigger, more popular city where all the immigrants usually go, like New York or Chicago,” he said.
Charles Steele, chairman in economics, business, and accounting, said he remembers Bosyk as a thoughtful and interesting student.
“We frequently met in my office for discussions, not just over class material, but also economics, current events, and life in general,” he said.
Steele remained in contact with Bosyk after graduation, staying up-to-date on his entrepreneurial endeavors and continuing their discussion on economics and current events.
“We’ve contacted each other much more frequently since Russia attacked,” Steele said. “In fact, when the Russians rocketed Lviv, I learned of it from him before it made the Western media.”
Bosyk eventually returned to Lviv and launched several startups. Most recently, he worked with a friend to develop a service that delivers groceries to thermal boxes located in clients’ apartments.
“That’s what we were working on for about two years,” he said. “Right before the war started, in December, we launched it. Since the war, we’ve had to freeze it.”
For the most part, the war has been a surreal experience, he said.
“War is here, it’s in my country, but then again, it’s pretty distant,” Bosyk said. “Yes, we have air raid sirens, yes we have explosions, and there is a curfew, but other than that, not much has changed.”
Many western Ukrainians feel guilty about the comfort they find themselves living in, especially compared to the situation in eastern Ukraine.
“It’s been an uncomfortably comfortable life for me,” Bosyk said. “People are feeling ashamed and embarrassed about the fact that their lives have been pretty comfortable, while cities like Mariupol and even Kyiv, have been bombed or completely wiped out.”
Bosyk, who has no prior military experience, attempted to sign up for the civilian militia like many other men in Ukraine, but was rejected because there were too many volunteers and not enough guns, he said. He is on a waitlist to be drafted and in the meantime, has filled his days with volunteering: he packs supplies, helps maintain order, and works with refugees.
“It’s been really hard to find one thing to do constantly because the volunteer positions are filling up, so I’ve been all over the place,” he said.
Sophomore Emiliya Smyk, who grew up in a Ukrainian-American community in Detroit, said she has struggled with the war. She recently directed a concert to spread awareness of the conflict. Her sister, who went to Romania to help with the refugee crisis, tells her stories of Ukrainian families.
“These refugees are describing war crimes and genocide; they’re in complete shock,” Smyk said.
Although she struggles with looking at pictures and information coming out of Ukraine, she said she believes it is important to continue to research and document the conflict.
“The bare minimum people can do is not look away,” Smyk said. “The pictures are hard to look at, but that’s good. We should look at them and cry, it’s weak to look away.”
Bosyk’s girlfriend, who has been working with refugees coming to Lviv from Mariupol, has told him similar stories. She works with mothers and young children and has found the volunteer work to be emotionally challenging.
She told Bosyk of a refugee mother from Mariupol whose young children were found unsupervised around the train station.
“It’s not to say she’s a bad mother, but she was so in shock from what she had witnessed, that she was losing touch with reality,” Bosyk said. “At one point she grabbed all her belongings, forgetting about her children, and claimed that she wanted to go back to Mariupol because that’s where her husband is. It wasn’t even known whether the husband exists, or whether he was alive.”
For Smyk, stories like these and pictures coming out of the war-torn country are evidence of a genocide being committed against the Ukrainian people.
“The most important thing to do is to call it what it is – is to call it a genocide,” Smyk said. “Truth is very easy to manipulate through language, and we need to be precise.”
Russia’s desire to include eastern Ukraine as part of a “greater Russia” and the Ukrainian defense of their identity are mutually incompatible, Steele said, which may mean the war will not end anytime soon.
“I think the Ukrainians correctly see it as a war to destroy the Ukrainian identity and the concept of Ukraine,” Steele said. “They will fight to the death.”
Western aid and support are incredibly important, Bosyk said. The Ukrainian army has been unable to provide many of its soldiers with personal protective equipment. In addition, refugees need money and supplies.
“I believe that the reason for Americans and the West and the rest of the world to help Ukraine is not pure empathy or compassion for a nation that’s been unjustly invaded,” Bosyk said.
The war has changed the public atmosphere in Ukraine drastically, erasing petty political and cultural differences, Bosyk said. Disputes between ethnic Ukrainian and ethnic Russian citizens have virtually disappeared.
“There’s this spirit of national unity that I’ve never felt before,” he said. “There’s a unified government, so there’s absolutely no kind of dissent. Everyone’s working together, everyone is helping each other.”
Despite the trauma of the experience, Bosyk said he hopes the spirit of unity will persist after the war and provide a basis for building a new nation without corruption.
“I can assure you that Ukraine, I call it Ukraine 2.0, is going to be a very different country after the war, and I really hope that is going to be all in the positive direction,” he said.