Opinion | I choose action over helplessness and you can choose it too

Opinion by Kate Sliunkova
March 10, 2022, 7:24 p.m.

I am Ukrainian, one of 15 Ukrainian students at Stanford, whose families are in Ukraine. Every day is an existential threat to everything I love. My heart is filled with fear, anxiety and devastation. But I choose action, action over silence and helplessness, and encourage the global community to do the same.

I was born in the city of Dnipro. City of one million, where Jews, Armenians, Arabs and lately students from across the world find peace in the sovereign land of Ukraine. I dream of hugging my family, healthy and smiling. And there will be a peaceful sky above a free and strong Ukraine.

Currently, my elderly grandparents are shuttling among bunkers and unlivable basements. My aunt’s family is in Kharkiv; last time she spoke with my mom, they had been sitting in the basement for seven days. Firefights and grad missile attacks that we see in the media are happening just outside of their house, all the time. Our closest family friend, the best man at our wedding, Stas, has joined the territorial defense, a volunteer defense group in Vinnitsya. He is an entrepreneur, husband and father; he has no military experience. His wife and son are now in Poland. They were devastated and sobbed on the phone, “We cannot believe this is happening.” On Monday, eight missiles destroyed Vinnistya’s airport. Our friend Stas is alive. Nine people, including five civilians, have died. 

Every message or phone call is precious. Local crowdsourced group chats on Telegram have become a lifeline. Approximately 500 messages per day, 24/7, from all over Ukraine, notify about attacks, explosions and fires, ruined buildings and destroyed military vehicles, captives, casualties. These messages also build hope by showing the unparalleled heroism of Ukrainians and transmitting President Zelensky’s courageous speeches. 

At Stanford, I’ve helped organize a community of Ukrainians, now consisting of more than 20 permanent members with 200 volunteers. Since news of the Russian invasion came on the evening of Feb. 23, we’ve built a website www.standwithukraine.how with 100,000 visitors over the last five days. We’re driving initiatives on humanitarian aid, economic sanctions and better defense weapons. In less than 48 hours, our volunteer, veteran and med school student Josh Pickering secured 80 tons of medical supplies from Kaiser Permanente. He will soon bring them to the Poland-Ukraine border. We’re engaging young global leaders on the importance of their voices in restoring global peace. We’re reaching out to American celebrities of Ukrainian ancestry, such as Steven Spielberg, Leo DiCaprio and Sly Stallone.

We are trying to convert helplessness into action. 

Part of me hopes this is all just a nightmare and I will awaken to a world where my country is merely fighting COVID, unemployment and corruption — not one of the most powerful armies anywhere.

Meanwhile, I push forward. A month ago, I planned a Ukrainian party, aiming to share everything I love about my country with my classmates.  The party last night became a rally and fundraising event. 

We were joined by more than 500 people, media and public figures, including Michael McFaul and Condoleezza Rice. Students from all around the world, including Russia, Belarus and Georgia, expressed their support and stood with us in a moment of silence. Hundreds of voices shouted, “Glory to Ukraine, glory to the heroes.” Russian students shouted, “Putin, go f*ck yourself.” 

I had been looking forward to this day. But I wish it never had to happen.

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