Stunned students protest Russian invasion of Ukraine

Ukrainian Cultural Club gather on Centennial Common in response to Russia invasion on Feb. 24, 2022. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

This report is part of ongoing coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war. Visit our dedicated page for more on this topic.

A crowd of stunned Ukrainian students and supporters gathered at Northeastern’s Centennial Common Thursday, protesting Russia’s unprovoked airstrikes and military invasion while scrambling to connect with loved ones in the war-torn country.

“I’ve been up all night, just watching the news,” says Dima Vremenko, a third-year biochemistry and computer science major whose grandparents live in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. His mother has connected with them and they’re safe for now, says Vremenko.

Vremenko had been keeping an eye on the mounting Russian presence at the border throughout the week, but he was still surprised to see the invasion.

“Very shocked. There’s always the threat, but at this point it becomes a reality,” says Vremenko, who moved to the U.S. with his parents when he was 10 years old. “It’s very weird. It still feels like it’s not really happening.”

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

He joined a crowd of roughly 20 Northeastern students who gathered at the common Thursday, holding Ukrainian flags and signs that read “Russian hands off Ukraine,” and “Stop the war.”

Deanna Zawadiwsky, a fourth-year psychology and economics major, is president of Northeastern’s Ukraine Cultural Club. She organized the gathering Wednesday night as Russia launched their first airstrikes along the eastern border. 

“Ukraine is one of those countries that just keeps getting hit and hit and hit, and it just seems like once they stand up they immediately get smacked back down,” says Zawadiwsky, who has cousins living in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil, and Lviv all in western Ukraine. Russian forces began strikes along the east border, but then seized control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant as part of a multipronged invasion that swept  through Ukraine Thursday.

“It’s been rough. Last night at 10:30 p.m. the main attacks and the shelling started. In Ukraine that’s about 5 in the morning, which is unthinkable. This whole thing has been unthinkable,” says Terenia Hankewycz, a fifth-year civil engineering major.

“I stayed up talking to family and friends for many hours just trying to coordinate and make sure their families are safe and that the people who need to get out are able to get out.”

Michael Maher, a fifth-year civil engineering major, says he heard about the gathering from his Ukrainian friends and he wanted to show his support.

“Democracies need to be upheld and protected,” says Maher. “I think it was Martin Luther King Jr. who said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ It’s a slippery slope, and if we don’t support them now, who will be there to support us?”

For Zachar Hankewycz, who is Terenia’s brother, the invasion continues Ukraine’s explosive history of war and violence.

“It’s just surreal. We’re used to some level of constant conflict,” says Hankewycz, mentioning Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea along with others.

“But something about last night, I don’t know. Even the veneer of an excuse is completely gone at this point,” he says.

He and his sister Terenia grew up in New York state, but have many relatives still living in the country. The only time Terenia was able to visit Ukraine was in 2019 on a special trip with her grandmother.

“Now I’m really happy that I had that opportunity. I don’t know if that will happen again,” Hankewycz says.

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