University of Oregon’s Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies program has organized a community forum about the Russian war on Ukraine, looking to give a platform to Ukrainians who live in Eugene.
Friday marks the one-year anniversary of Russia invading Ukraine. Millions of Ukrainians have fled their home country while Ukrainians living overseas during the invasion watched from afar. The forum Friday evening is meant to remind the broader community that the war is ongoing and support is still needed.
The Ukrainian community at the University of Oregon is small but close-knit, becoming more strongly bonded in the past year.
Iryna Stavynska, a graduate student studying folklore at UO, said the war has pushed the Ukrainians in the area together. They often discuss the latest events in Ukraine and how they feel about them.
“We kind of connected a lot of our mutual efforts to change things,” Stavynska said. “We’re discussing a lot of things and figuring out how we should do things and how we can help Ukraine while being here.”
Stavynska and other UO Ukranian students and staff will participate in “One Year On: A Community Forum on Russia’s War on Ukraine” Friday evening on campus. It is free and open to the public.
Associate professor Julie Hessler encouraged people to come and learn about the war, ask questions and listen to Ukrainian voices.
“Emotions are really raw on the part of the Ukrainian students here,” Hessler said. “It’s a chance for them just to connect and feel supported here, to know that their struggle and country’s struggle has not been just ignored or forgotten here in the town where they’ve landed.”
Hessler, a historian of the Soviet Union who has taught Ukrainian history, helped organize the event. She and two other professors will give short presentations on the war and what has been learned about Russia and Ukraine.
At the end, there will be a candlelight vigil to remember those who have died due to the war. There will be a Ukrainian Orthodox priest and a pastor from Fellowship Church present for those who are looking for religious connections.
The value of a platform
Iryna Zagoruyko came to Oregon from Ukraine 11 years ago, earning two master’s degrees at UO, then going on to teach Ukrainian language at the university through the Yamada Language Center.
Since coming to Eugene, she has come to know Oregon as her home. But she has felt the impact of the war.
Zagoruyko said she is looking forward to the forum.
“It sounds like it’s going to be definitely a very safe place for me to talk,” she said. “I feel like I’m understood and heard at the University of Oregon.”
Zagoruyko will speak on the value of the Ukrainian language at Friday’s forum. Russia for decades tried to suppress Ukrainian, leading to large regions of the country primarily speaking Russian. Bans on Ukrainian date back to the 1800s.
Russian propaganda has in the past called Ukrainian a “dialect” of Russian. This is something that angered many Ukrainians, pushing them to make greater efforts to preserve their language. Zagoruyko said she has seen a movement of Ukrainians making efforts to speak solely Ukrainian.
“Language, it’s very important in Ukraine, both historically and culturally, and it’s definitely an integral part of our national identity,” she said. “I think Ukrainian people understand that there can be nothing in common with the enemy. They have to speak Ukrainian more.”
Zagoruyko will share this history and the impact of language on the war at Friday’s forum. She will also discuss the nation-building she has observed from Ukrainians coming together and bonding over their trauma and bravery.
“I feel like the Ukrainian people went through so much emotionally, and I think it’s like my patriotic duty to contribute to this forum and participate and say something,” she said.
Impact on Ukrainians
Stavynska is in the third year of her graduate program. She was supposed to graduate in 2022 and return to Ukraine, but when the invasion began, she knew she had to stay in the U.S.
Stavynska continued her studies, knowing her family was back in Ukraine.
She said she was on the phone with her mom in Kyviv when it was shelled early in the invasion. The call suddenly dropped, and she thought it was the last time she’d hear her mother’s voice. Luckily, her mom only lost internet and she is doing okay.
“Me being here in the first part of the war, the first couple of months, was very weird because I felt like I shouldn’t be here, like I should be with my people,” Stavynska said. “I felt so useless being here.”
But Stavynska said she realized she could make an impact by spreading awareness and sharing her culture in the United States.
She said she’s glad many people in the U.S. are aware of Ukraine and the war, but there are still a lot of misunderstandings.
Stavynska has been trying to educate people on an individual level, answering questions about Ukraine, sharing details about her culture, but she said it’s been hard to find a platform to speak to the broader community.
“We would like our voices to be heard,” she said.
How to participate
The community forum will be held at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Knight Library Browsing Room, 1501 Kincaid St.
Stavynska said coming and listening to Ukrainian voices shows support.
For those who cannot give money, giving time or spreading awareness is equally valuable, she said.
“It helps us resist psychologically,” she said. “It’s very important to support Ukrainian culture, even (if) culture may seem like such an abstract thing. In reality, it’s very concrete, and it’s very important.”
Stavynska has been earning grants to bring Ukrainian artists to the UO for performances. She and her group are aiming for four Ukrainian arts-centric events, the first of which happened Thursday night.
Valentyn Lysenko, who plays the traditional Ukrainian bandura, and Ukrainian folklorist Inna Kovtun each gave performances at the Ukrainian Music Concert at Beall Concert Hall.
The upcoming events will center on Ukrainian traditional arts and focus on resistance in the face of the war.
Miranda Cyr reports on education for The Register-Guard. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on Twitter @mirandabcyr.