Reflecting on One Year of War
These stories are part of the "Reflecting on One Year of War" series, created by Central Current to offer a space to document and elevate the many Ukrainian voices of our local community. If you or someone you know would like to be part of the series, email Sarah Dolgin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Riddled with classes, assignments and extracurriculars, many Ukrainian students in Syracuse did not have the chance to take a break from their academic responsibilities when war broke out in their country of heritage.
Reminders to hand in projects and study for tests paralleled news alerts depicting casualties and air strikes. Professors and peers asked Ukrainian-speaking students to stand in as translators to make sense of news for students in English.
Central Current interviewed students with connections to Syracuse and Ukraine as part of the “Reflecting on One Year of War” series, to better understand how members of the local college community have been impacted by the war in Ukraine.
Taras Colopelnic’s alarm blared at 8 a.m. on Feb. 24, 2022. As the Syracuse University student went to check his phone, waking up during a semester studying abroad in Spain, the alarm to get up for class was drowned out by pinging notification banners that detailed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Later that day, walking through the streets of Madrid on the way to class, he thought of the missile strike raining down on Ukrainian civilians 2,000 miles away.
Colopelnic is from Auburn, but his parents are from a Romanian village on the Ukrainian border and his family identifies as ethnically Ukrainian. His father, Vasile Colopelnic, is the pastor at St. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church in Auburn, and Taras grew up heavily involved in his local Ukrainian community. At SU, he continues that legacy as the Ukrainian Club President.
On the day of the Russian invasion, he was frustrated by how the day’s routine continued as normal in Spain, wondering why the war in his country of heritage was just another headline.
“How is life here just not stopping when I’m watching people’s lives completely shatter on the same day?” Colopelnic said.
A Spanish teacher asked Colopelnic to translate live coverage of Ukrainian President Zelensky, and he rose to the task, continuing in the role for the rest of his study abroad experience.
Two weeks later, Colopelnic was asked to speak at a Ukraine symposium held to foster discussion about the war. He spoke about why it’s important to know what’s happening in Ukraine, how it was impacting him as a Ukrainian and showed a video to his peers from the perspective of Ukraine as a person to try and resonate with attendees.
In those early months, it pained Colopelnic that he couldn’t spend time helping his local community in Auburn with humanitarian aid efforts. It was hard to organize Ukrainian Club action back in Syracuse from Madrid.
Colopelnic decided to frequently post information to social media about the war in Ukraine, imparting his own perspective in English for those who may not be able to translate the sources he reads to stay updated.
“It almost doesn’t matter if you have family there or not, if you know people there are not, it’s what’s in your heart,” Colopelnic said. “For a lot of us Ukrainians here in the U.S., we know that that’s our homeland.”
When second-generation Ukrainian American Anna Salewycz heard that Russia had invaded Ukraine, she struggled to balance her internal feelings with how she wanted to outwardly express her grief for her country to her peers.
The SU sophomore was a freshman at the time, and felt isolated during her first year apart from the strong New Jersey Ukrainian community she grew up in.
Salewycz’s grandparents came to the U.S. in 1949 amid World War II’s wave of Ukrainian immigration, and her parents prioritized preserving Ukrainian culture through her upbringing.
She grew up speaking Ukrainian, attending Ukrainian school every Saturday, was a Ukrainian scout, and participated in Ukrainian folk dancing and choir.
When war broke out, Salewycz had to attend class and could not stop crying as she sat in lecture. She did not want others to notice, but felt a sense of despair and hopelessness that she could not leave school and do more to help Ukraine.
Salewycz felt strange receiving pity from students who associated her with the war in Ukraine, and didn’t want to receive sympathy she felt was meant for the people on the front lines in Ukraine when she and her family were safe in the U.S.
As the war progressed, she felt isolated at times in her unwavering interest in the war.
When a professor teaching a lesson on what makes a story newsworthy used an article about U.S. President Biden meeting with Ukraine President Zolensky as an example, she was taken aback.
The professor said it was a story people don’t care about anymore and are tired of seeing.
Salewycz understood where the professor was coming from; However, the journalism student felt that the ubiquitous nature of human suffering was important for students safe in the U.S. university bubble to understand, even if the war was no longer the newest story at the time.
“It’s important to tell stories like this, because prior to the war in Ukraine, I viewed war as this foreign concept that happened in our history and wouldn’t happen again,” she said. “I knew there were other things going on in the world, but it was when Russia invaded Ukraine, it suddenly became so real for me and I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
Uriy Grabovyy prayed every day leading up to the war that Russian movement on the Ukrainian border would stop.
When Russian troops finally invaded Kyiv, Grabovyy struggled to sleep and was overwhelmed with stress.
He was a sophomore at the University of Buffalo at the time, and had a difficult semester trying to focus on school knowing that his family in both western Ukraine, and his brother Oleg, who left Syracuse to help on the front lines, could be in danger.
Waiting for word from Oleg when he was not near his phone for periods of time left Uriy on edge, trying to make sense of his brother’s wellbeing by tracking his social media habits.
“It’s like when you take an exam at college and your heart’s beating until you open up that test grade,” Grabovyy said.
Some relatives from western Ukraine were able to leave the country in the months after the Russian invasion. They came to stay at his home in Syracuse, but Grabovyy’s grandparents and cousins remain in Ukraine. He would become preoccupied thinking of his brother’s close calls with artillery fire and then have to set aside his concerns to complete his pre medicine coursework.
Grabovyy came home from UB when he could to help package donations of military uniforms, knee pads and medical equipment for his brother to distribute.
Now, as a junior preparing for the MCAT, he spends most of his time studying and talking to his brother who is home for now before he returns to Ukraine later this year. Grabovyy is trying to find new ways to help Ukraine by staying informed on Russian troop movement and international support.
Grabovyy helps his mother translate her Ukrainian Facebook posts into English for their family organization, called “Forever with Ukraine.” While his brother was on the front lines, he would translate his posts into English so that the community at home could understand his updates.
Grabovyy has always wanted to go to Ukraine and wants to join his brother in helping rebuild the country when it is safe to go back.
This story is part of the “Reflecting on One Year of War” series, created by Central Current to offer a space to document and elevate the many Ukrainian voices of our local community. If you or someone you know would like to be part of the series, email Sarah Dolgin at email@example.com.
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Reflecting on One Year of War: Syracuse Ukrainian church congregants mourn, pray for peace
One year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the local Ukrainian community gathered in Syracuse to mourn, remember lives lost and pray for peace.
Syracuse-area Ukrainians share their stories: Reflecting on One Year of War
Central Current was there last year to cover the local outpouring of grief and support when Russia waged war on Ukraine in Feb. 2022.