The War in Ukraine: Personal Perspectives

Posted Feb 22, 2023

This week marks a painful anniversary as one year ago, on Feb. 24, 2022, Russia invaded the sovereign nation of Ukraine. We talked to two members of our community: Associate Professor Megan Chawansky, Department of Health and Sport Sciences, the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, and Tamara Bilous (Тамара Білоус), a Ukrainian professor now living in the United States, who is forming academic relationships with Otterbein faculty members.

Associate Professor Megan Chawansky: Ukrainian American Perspective

Megan Chawansky In Ukraine
Associate Professor Megan Chawansky in Ukraine

What impact has the invasion and war in Ukraine had on your cultural ties to your parents’ homeland?

The invasion and war have strengthened my ties to Ukraine and my Ukrainian heritage. I knew bits and pieces about how my father and his parents arrived in the U.S., and I vaguely knew the ‘why’ of their arrival. Seeing this invasion and war unfold in my lifetime has unfortunately given me insights into what compelled them to leave. I know they left family and lives behind when they left Ukraine. To see another generation of Ukrainians go through this situation again is heartbreaking, and I’m compelled to do what I can to help make life easier for those who have stayed and those who have left.

What efforts have you been involved in to help Ukraine and Ukrainians?

I’m actively involved in the Ukrainian Cultural Association of Ohio, which is a group in central Ohio. This group has provided workshops on Ukrainian culture (e.g. cooking, pysanky) and done various fundraising initiatives. I have used my skills to help in any way that I can. Beyond that, I personally keep in touch with Ukrainian friends who have left and who are still there. I try to find ways to support them and show up for them.

What would you recommend for anyone to help or get involved?

There are various ways that people can help, from supporting one of UCAO’s workshops to sponsoring a Ukrainian who may need to leave the country and needs a home. You can follow UCAO on social media or reach out with specific questions you may have.

What, over the past year, has stood out to you about this war?

The persistent courage and steadfastness of the Ukrainian people has stood out to me. As the world has witnessed repeated attacks on Ukraine, the people have not faltered. Each person is making a number of sacrifices for their nation, and it is impressive to see.

What do you want Americans to know about Ukraine and its people?

Ukraine still needs support from Americans. And victory for Ukraine will extend beyond that country.

Tamara Bilous (Тамара Білоус), Professor of Philology (Linguistics) at Rivne State University of the Humanities in Rivne, Ukraine

What was the first day of the invasion like for you?

The first day was terrible. There was a lot of info in mass media about the upcoming invasion before Feb. 24, but I didn’t believe, I’d say we (all Ukrainians) didn’t want to believe. We used to think we were good neighbours with Russians or even one single nation. But it happened. I was sleeping when my brother, who lives in Kyiv, called me at about 5 a.m. and told that Putin started a war and Kyiv was being bombed. He also said that they were bombing Kharkiv. My son Anton lived and worked in Kharkiv at that time, so I started calling him, but he was not available. I didn’t have any information from him or about him and didn’t know what to think and what to do. He was able to get connected with me in the afternoon, he was ok. For long hours I felt fear and despair — because of the war itself and because of the situation with my son. The worst thing — to be helpless, to realize that there is nothing you can do to change events.

How has your life changed during the past year?

This year has been emotionally difficult. My son is an officer of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and serves in the most difficult spots of the front. I think of him every minute and it is he who supports and cheers me up!

There are many different positive changes. My son and I have got support (both friendly and financial) from people we didn’t know before or people we did not know well enough to rely on. I moved to the country I had always dreamt about (the United States) and made friends with wonderful people. Now I know that I’m not alone and feel support and sympathy.

How did you come to the U.S.?

My friend, a former Peace Corps volunteer, supported me greatly when the war started. Once he shared the information about U4U program with me and suggested I come to the US. He helped me to find a sponsor. I came to Ohio and met my host family — a very nice young couple, Allison and Matt, and their adorable kids.

How did you come to be connected with academic colleagues at Otterbein?

When I came to the U.S., my friend introduced me to the people from Ukrainian Cultural Association of Ohio (UCAO) — great people, who keep Ukrainian culture and support Ukrainians being so far from Ukraine! Megan Chawansky, a member of this association, told me a lot about Otterbein during our meetings — about faculty, students, programs, events. I got interested and wanted to know more about American system of higher education and compare it with the Ukrainian one. So I decided to ask whether I can learn more about Otterbein and develop my professional skills here. Megan helped me greatly — she organized everything and connected me with people.

I was overwhelmed by the warm welcome! President John Comerford, Provost Wendy Sherman Heckler, and Associate Provost Christina Reynolds impressed me with sympathy, understanding, readiness to provide me with all available possibilities to meet my needs and interests. Education Professor Diane Ross kindly supplied her house for me, connected with people, organized a lot of interesting and useful meetings and activities (concerning multicultural education, but not only that). English as a Second Language Program Director Erin Johnson became my guide and supervisor concerning the ESL program, who shared the experience in this field at Otterbein. She spent a lot of time with me. English Professor Margaret Koehler and (Ohio State University Ph.D. student) Bethany Martens shared their experience as well. All these people and many others proved to be both professionals and perfect people. I’m blessed to be a little part of the big friendly Otterbein team.

What, over the past year, has stood out to you about this war?

Brave and unbreakable Ukrainian people impress me every day. It doesn’t matter where we live today – we are united for the victory.

What do you want Americans to know about Ukraine and its people?

Ukraine is a nation of patriots, Ukrainians are freedom-loving and courageous. Now the blue and yellow flag is raised and Ukrainian anthem is heard in many countries. We deeply appreciate this huge support from millions of people worldwide.

Featured Image: Flag of Ukraine. From Wikimedia Commons. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.