Updates on Ukraine

Students urge each other to set aside differences amidst an ongoing international conflict

Updates on Ukraine

On February 24, 2022, Russia began its full-scale military invasion of Ukraine. Threatened by a growing presence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) from the West and sovereignty conflicts over former Soviet regions, Russian President Vladimir Putin has invaded Ukraine and incited a mass humanitarian crisis.

Despite the war’s physical location in Europe, it has increased awareness over its impacts on Ukrainian individuals within the Stevenson community. Concerns over the well-being of loved ones has led students to stress the importance of mutual support and understanding in a time of emergency.

For Mia Korsunsky ’22, the war has created new concern for her family and close friends in Ukraine. Family group chats are reinvigorated as she and her parents try to monitor conditions from suburban Illinois.  

“Since the invasion, my parents have been on the phone nonstop and making calls…and the TV has not turned off with the news,” Korsunsky said. “Every time you make a phone call, will somebody answer the phone?”

Korsunsky’s concern can be explained by Russia’s bombardment of Ukrainian power plants, which has left many civilians without electricity and leaving the status of their situation in the dark. As Russia launches missiles to the capital city of Kyiv and continues its siege of Mariupol, many have been driven to tenuous shelters. 

In fact, according to the Office of the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, 10.5 million civilians have been displaced. A further 1,276 civilians have been confirmed to be killed by the UN as of April 1, 2022, but a statement released by the office said actual figures could be considerably higher. Alongside threats to physical stability, Yelena Reytikh ’23 explains some of the day-to-day challenges for her family. 

“We need to make sure our family has clothing and food resources that they need almost everyday,” Reytikh said. “We’re definitely checking in with family more often, more than once a week, to make sure it’s okay, and to make sure they have everything they need.”

The humanitarian toll continues to increase as the war continues. Consequently, some Russian students at Stevenson experience changes in perceptions toward their culture. 

For example, Russian Club has been renamed to Eastern European Club, and some Russian activities were discontinued. However, some club members, like Catherine Zelker ’24, believe that this name change hasn’t impacted the relationships they’ve previously formed. 

“We’re all from different places all around from the prior Soviet Union lands, but we all have similar cultural beliefs,” Zelker said. “[The name change] hasn’t really changed the energy.”

Zelker notes that Eastern European Club’s shared conversations on the war has allowed the club to continue to act as a place where members can share similar foods and language. However, other students believe that the change stigmatizes Russian culture. For example, as an Ukrainian and Russian student, Reytikh recalls how some Russian-owned stores have been ransacked and explains the increased hostility that she faces from her peers. 

“[O]utside of school, we speak Russian and some people are getting dirty looks. I have seen some scenarios where people were told ‘go back to your home country’, even though they don’t realize that if they go back they will be shot on sight,” Reytikh said. “Just because we are of Russian heritage doesn’t mean we support Russia.”

Reytikh advocates for separating the actions of the Russian regime from those of the Russian people, especially since 13 percent of Stevenson families who do speak English at home speak Russian. Despite some individual’s disapproval of Putin’s actions, he has continued to censor the Russian press to bolster domestic support. His aggressive actions have impacted his own people as Russian news outlets have continually downplayed the war on Ukraine. Zelker believes that the Russian people are not at fault for the actions of the regime, especially since many in Russia lack power over their government,

“The media in Russia is completely limited. So really, they have no other choice but to believe what they see,” Zelker said. “They don’t get a vote or anything, Putin has all the control.”

As the Kremlin moves to display its power through censorship of social media and cutting off internet access, many world leaders are limiting Russia through economic sanctions on the government and its oligarchs. The White House reports that the coordinated actions of the Group of 7 Nations (G7) and European Union (EU) countries have closed the Moscow Stock Market and temporarily deprecated the ruble below a penny. Recent pressure from citizens and governments have further moved large companies, like McDonalds and Nestle, to suspend operations in Russia.

However, NATO countries have refused to send troops to Ukraine and have shipped weapons, medical resources, and other supplies instead. Despite the punitive economic measures and military support for Ukraine, the Kremlin has continued the war. To help students understand the actions taken by different governments and the changing events, Social Studies Teacher Vincent Springer reflects on his responsibility as an educator to encourage students to ask questions about the war.  

“Okay, we’ve got this event, let’s talk about it. Let’s understand it,” Springer said. “That makes [students] more informed citizens because it gives them something to reflect on as they’re consuming news and understanding about what’s happening in Ukraine.” 

Springer believes that his class discussions help his students reflect on their personal values and support each other. With greater discussion, students like Korsunsky hope that their peers will continue to learn more about the war and empathize with those impacted. 

“Productive discussion comes from clash. It comes from understanding and it comes from eagerness to learn,” Korsunsky said, “but it also comes with compassion.”