At the age of 15, Elina Mariutsa bought a one-way ticket out of Moscow and never looked back, leaving behind her home, her parents, and Paris, her Yorkshire terrier.
It was 2013 and Greece was crumbling under the pressure of the refugee crisis. Mariutsa couldn’t bear to continue to sit back and watch it unfold on television. She spent six months in Chalkidiki, a processing site for refugees and migrants, volunteering for various nonprofit organizations.
There, she says she found herself disenchanted by the laissez-faire attitude of some government officials to address the crisis, so she started plotting her next move. But, as she wanted to continue helping where she could, returning to Moscow was not an option.
“I was living my good life in Moscow and enjoying it and being comfortable,” she says. “It’s not like I was born into a very rich family or anything, nothing like that. But I was safe and I was happy and didn’t feel it.”
With her parents’ support, Mariutsa spent the next three-and-a-half years after Greece attending an American school in the Czech Republic. Knowing neither English nor Czech, during the first two months she pretended to be deaf whenever she was addressed. Three years later, when she moved to Boston to study international affairs and political science at Northeastern, she was fluent in both languages, and has since added four more languages to her repertoire, including German, Polish, and French, in addition to her native languages, Russian and Ukrainian.
From Moscow to Boston, over the course of six years Mariutsa has found a home in many different cities in between. But while the people of every one of those places were welcoming to her, she has found that the governments have been generally hostile toward each other. This discord is what ultimately propelled her passion for diplomacy, she says.
“I call home many places that don’t like each other, that don’t accept each other and each other’s differences, and don’t find common ground,” she says. “My biggest hope is to find that common ground. Everything I do here in peacebuilding or foreign affairs or politics is to one day see the places all over the world that are dear to my heart sit at a common negotiation table and have a civil dialogue.”
It’s this passion that drives everything Mariutsa does, and from the looks of it, there’s not a spare moment in her day that isn’t dedicated to addressing injustices. As a middle school student in Russia, she helped political prisoners who believed they were falsely accused defend themselves in court. Now as a student at Northeastern, she spends much of her time developing solutions for disaster-stricken areas and supporting efforts to prevent and end gun violence.
Last year, she helped organize the March for Our Lives in Boston—which turned out to be the second-largest student-led demonstration attended in the country after Washington, D.C.—and remains involved as the group’s press secretary. With the anti-gun violence group, she has also helped organize the 50 Miles More March on Massachusetts-based gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson, and helped draft and lobby for gun violence bills in Massachusetts.
This summer, Mariutsa is studying global governance and disarmament at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, during a month-long Dialogue of Civilizations program led by political science and international affairs professor Denise Garcia.
The Geneva trip comes on the heels of her completion of a co-op at the Global Resilience Institute at Northeastern, where she worked as a research assistant focusing on the lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
“The New Orleans mayor hired GRI to figure out how to strengthen those communities, and most importantly not only the infrastructure, but how to build social capital; how to make sure that people feel like they belong there and they want to restore it,” she says.
Mariutsa has been selected to join an ambassador program offered by the Institute for Economics and Peace, an Australian-based organization that produces a Global Peace Index every year that ranks countries according to their level of peacefulness. The program is comprised of researchers, legislators, educators, and professionals from around the world who are dedicated to resolving injustices in nonviolent ways. Mariutsa says that the opportunity will enable her to connect with others in the field, and develop research projects and conferences.
The program, which kicked off in June, will require her to attend conferences throughout the year and undertake one major research project, which she plans to present at Northeastern in October. For her project, Mariutsa says she will focus on the economic impact of common causes of death, including coronary diseases, gun violence, and suicides, compared to terror and disaster-related deaths, which have a lower probability, but receive far more media attention.
“We are afraid of these huge disasters, but then we still have gun violence that is happening in our neighborhoods,” she says. “This is something that causes the economy to cripple and those people that are affected cannot participate in the economy, can’t get a job or their family has to spend money on medical expenses. But we don’t think about those things and it hurts us so much more in the long-term.”
Mariutsa has also worked as a leading delegate and a mentor for Northeastern’s International Relations Council. As a member of the Northeastern chapter of the United Nations Association, she helped organize the first United Nations Day at the university, as well as its first Earth Day. Recently, she was appointed as the organization’s president.
In the fall, she’ll return to work in Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office—where she completed her first co-op—to conduct research and advise the office on gun violence prevention policy.
As she continues her pursuit of her degrees in international affairs and political science, she paused to reflect on the opportunities she’s created for herself and ones that she discovered through Northeastern.
“As an international student there’s literally not a single place in this country where you can go to school and also get an internship, because you’re not allowed to work outside of campus,” she says. “All of this experience is because of co-op and because of Northeastern’s programs to work outside. I’m really lucky.”