PRESTIN MCHUGH WRITES – I am a student enrolled in Psychology of Diversity, a course offered at Loyola Marymount University. A recent class topic has been current issues regarding the war between Russia and Ukraine. The course is discussion-based, consisting of ten students, so we are able to get detailed and personal. A classmate of mine, Emily, opened up about her special perspective on this horrible war. Emily is majoring in psychology and minoring in sociology. After graduating this spring, she will pursue a Masters degree in Pediatric Occupational Therapy.
After a class, Emily told me about her personal struggles with the war:
Q: So what is your personal connection to the Russia-Ukraine war?
A: My connection to the war is intense. My dad’s side of the family is from Odessa, Ukraine, and my mom’s side of the family is from Belarus, which was formerly included in the Soviet Union. My mom’s side of the family immigrated when she was nine months old; she has no memory or recollection of what life was like.
When my grandma was pregnant with my mom, they were already in the process of getting documentation and visas, so once my mom’s family found out that there was a train leaving, they left. My family immigrated to the United States in 1978 to escape the Soviet Union due to religious persecution. My grandparents gave up their lives, gathered important belongings, and traveled across the globe to provide a better life for my parents and for future generations.
Immigration then was not just about receiving better opportunities, but was also to escape the discrimination, inequality, and anti-Semitism they faced as Russian/Ukrainian Jews. During this time, religion was stated on legal documentation. This made it hard for Russian and Ukrainian Jews to get jobs, attend universities, and even practice their religion. My dad’s family in Ukraine was unable to celebrate the Jewish holidays or go to temples and synagogues. There was only one synagogue, and it was as small as a closet.
I have always wanted to visit Ukraine with my grandparents to see where my family is from and where they grew up, but they have no desire to go back. They do not want to relive the hard living conditions. This makes me sad because even though I might not be able to go with them I could always go myself, but to do that, the country would still have to exist.
Q: How did you first hear about conflict between Russia and Ukraine?
A: I always knew Ukraine and Russia had a conflict with one another, especially once Ukraine separated from the Soviet Union. I heard my family speaking about it, but I never thought that it would cause a war. My family and I are 100% in support of Ukraine. Realizing how horrific the conditions have gotten and how fast the war has escalated has been a struggle. President Zelensky is not just a Ukrainian President but a Jewish Ukrainian President who is trying to protect his country and protect the freedoms people have now that they did not have when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. Instead of sitting back in his office and dictating what his people and armed forces should do, he is taking action into his own hands and fighting. If Ukrainians stop fighting for their country there will be no more Ukraine, but if Russia stops fighting, the country will exist.
Q: Do you still have family in Ukraine and/or Russia? If so, how are they doing?
A: I am grateful to have my immediate family with me in Los Angeles, but I still have some family in Ukraine. Some are refusing to leave their homes, and others are willing to do anything they need to do to save their lives. The options for Ukrainian people are to seek refuge in Poland, Hungary, Moldova, or other neighboring countries to live safely, but that can take up to days or weeks due to high demand.
The most terrifying part is that once these people leave Ukraine they might not ever be allowed back if their homes, family, and country are destroyed.
I am also grateful to have no family in Russia, but my former dance teacher does live there, and I talk to her daily to get updates on her point of view, as she is also Ukrainian and Russian. She does not condemn the war. She feels that history has finally exploded. Even though she does not condemn, she does not think it should have gone so far as to cost people their lives, or their homeland. From what she has described, she is living in a box – all banks have been shut, as have social media platforms, dining establishments, and more.
Q: What has been most surprising to you regarding this war?
A: The most shocking part is how horrific it has gotten – the conditions of Ukraine … homes being destroyed, historic buildings being bombed, and children’s hospitals in ruins. There is no reason these children should be forced to attend schools under a bridge while waiting for a train to escape their homes. There is no reason mothers should be saying goodbye to their sons and husbands, not knowing if or when they will be reunited.
Q: What do you think will end up happening? Can you hypothesize what might bring peace?
A: I honestly do not know what will happen with this war because my family and I never thought it would occur. I am hopeful for peace, but I am skeptical, especially when dealing with a dictator such as Putin. Peace doesn’t look likely at this moment with the amount of destructive power President Putin has. He mentioned he wanted to go to war to “demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine.” Ukraine has a Jewish president and a large Jewish population that has endured a great amount of anti-Semitic and historical persecution already. Using the expression de-Nazify was beyond disgusting. During the second world war, some of my family members had to fight, some were taken to concentration camps. Putin’s statement hit too close to home.
Q: What are some ways we can help?
A: There are many ways people could help. Getting support from the LMU community would be amazing, as there has been a lack of coverage of this topic. There is an organization called Baranova27, which is centered in New Jersey, and they are gathering humanitarian aid as well as supplies to send Ukraine, constantly. Their Amazon wish list is below. https://www.amazon.com/registries/custom/1LS3L0IYVJTWV/guest-view. Items vary from medical supplies to adult and children’ clothing, diapers, and formula, as many people are living under bridges, train stations, or outdoors. Anything helps, whether small or large.
I can’t even begin to imagine what these families are going through. I will forever be grateful for the life I have today, and feel lucky that my family immigrated when they did because if they didn’t, I would be there fighting for my life.