Government officials, faculty foreign-policy experts and students spoke in support of Ukraine and called for international action during a campus rally on Friday afternoon. The two-hour event was held at White Plaza and hosted by the Russian Student Association and Stanford Students are Standing with Ukraine.
The event also drew widespread affirmations of solidarity from international student associations, who reiterated their commitment to standing with Ukraine. Throughout the rally, experts and student leaders took turns detailing their personal experiences and stances on the war.
“This is the ninth day of the war, and there are already many people who have died,” Consul General of Ukraine in San Francisco Dmytro Kushneruk said. “Among those who died are 20 children. As of today, 64 children have been wounded in the bomb attacks and 1,000 civilian adults.”
The Consul General came to the Stanford campus for the rally just hours after meeting with California Governor Gavin Newsom about steps the state administration can take to support Ukraine.
Kushneruk asked Newsom to ensure that California businesses abide by all U.S. sanctions on Russia, he said. Later that same day, Newsom put the suggestion into practice, issuing an executive order.
Kushneruk also called for the U.S. and NATO to establish a no-fly zone in Ukraine, where the U.S. could implement “electronic and other systems to intercept Russian missiles that target Ukraine.”
NATO, however, declined to implement any form of a “no-fly zone” during their Friday meeting.
Michael McFaul ’86 M.A. ’86, former U.S. ambassador to Russia and the director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI), predicted that the resilience demonstrated by Ukrainian troops and civilians in the fight for their homeland would prevent Putin from asserting control of Ukraine.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, McFaul explained, was “a strategic mistake,” one that he predicted could serve as the “beginning of the end of Putin and Putin’s regime.”
“Vladimir Putin is evil,” McFaul said, drawing resounding applause from those in attendance. “I know. I used to work across the table from him. I used to be in Russia as an ambassador, and I’ve watched his career. I met him in 1991, and I have been calling him evil for a long time. We now need to call that man evil. And this war is an evil war.”
Alongside Larry Diamond ’74 M.A. ’78, Ph.D. ’90, the former director of Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, McFaul called attention to the Russian students who continuously speak against Putin’s war on Ukraine and the many brave Russians who protested in their homeland and were subsequently imprisoned.
Stefan Sharkov ’23, a student born and raised in St. Petersburg, Russia, spoke to the fear that Russians have when deciding whether to speak out.
“My family is still back at home, and everybody knows me,” Sharkov said. “My mom says, ‘Remember about us when you post on Instagram.’ And by that she means a rule that used to be in the USSR. If the government cannot punish the person themselves, they will punish their family.”
Sharkov honored those in Russia who criticized the invasion of Ukraine in the face of punishment from Putin’s administration.
“Multiple laws were approved last night by the Russian Duma,” Sharkov said on Friday. “They can put you in prison for 15 years if you post unapproved war footage. They can put you in prison for six years if you’re against using Russian military in the war in Ukraine. But people are still fighting.”
Even for students from neighboring countries, home looks nothing like what they remember. Viktoryia Shautsova, a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford, said that Belarus, a country with a government closely aligned with Putin’s, has been used as an aerial base for Russian forces to launch attacks on Ukraine.
“People of Belarus never supported the war,” she said. “The people of Belarus were not asked if we are in support of the war.”
Neither Shautsova nor her friends who protested the war or provided direct relief to Ukraine can return to Belarus in the foreseeable future, she told The Daily.
“We can’t go back home because our government is hunting us down,” she added. “Because we want to change the system. We want to have a democracy.”
Several students from regions under attack also rose to the microphone to share their stories.
For Andrii Torchylo ’25, a student from Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, the war is frighteningly personal — whenever his home city faces Russian bombardment, Torchylo’s younger brother has to hide in bomb shelters.
Though he expressed gratitude for the economic sanctions imposed by Western governments against Putin and the Russian government, Torchylo said that he wished the West had rallied earlier to prevent the invasion.
“The entire world was surprised,” Torchylo said about the Western response. “But also at the same time, the entire world was speaking about it before it happened. It is twice as hurtful to realize that the invasion was so predictable and yet the world didn’t impose any preventive sanctions.”
Natalia Kolosov, a Ukrainian attending the rally, held a poster drawing a comparison between Hitler’s 1939 invasion of Poland and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Kolosov said that as with Hitler’s attack on Poland, the Russian war on Ukraine could become another world war if Western countries are not willing to act.
“It’s not just Ukraine’s war — it’s Europe’s war,” Kolosov said.
Oleg Kolosov, Natalia’s husband and a Russian, said that Ukraine is fighting on behalf of all people opposed to Putin’s regime and that supporting Ukraine is the best way to act against Putin.
“Right now there is a conflict,” Oleg said. “Ukraine didn’t choose it, but they’re fighting on behalf of everybody. So everybody needs to provide that support.”
Russian Student Association president David Saykin told The Daily that he was impressed with the turnout at the rally and believed it would impactfuly demonstrate Western solidarity with Ukraine.
The event’s largest impact, some said, could be on those who were unaware of the rally or the strength of support for Ukraine.
“I think it motivates a lot of people to care,” Styopa Zharkov ’24 said. “People are walking by, they see ‘what is this,’ and at the very least Google what’s going on.”