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Ukrainian soldier engages in combat sce­nario at Yavoriv Combat Training Center in western Ukraine. | Flickr

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.