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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Dartmouth Student Alliance for Ukraine holds vigil on second anniversary of Russian invasion

Students and professors spoke about the impact of the war on their families, homes and themselves.

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On Feb. 24, the Dartmouth Student Alliance for Ukraine held a vigil on the Green at 7 p.m. to commemorate the second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

The vigil was open to members of the Dartmouth and broader Upper Valley community and included speeches from Zhenia Dubrova ’24, Polly Chesnokova ’24, Zakhar Podolets ’27, Daryna Gladun MALS’24, Marta Hulievska ’25 and Kyrylo Fomin ’26, as well as East European, Eurasian and Russian studies professors Victoria Somoff and Lada Kolomiyets.

The Dartmouth Student Alliance for Ukraine hosted the vigil because it has become a tradition to “mark the day of the invasion,” according to treasurer Chesnokova, who is from Ukraine.

“Last year, it happened with one year of the Russian invasion, and then this year, we unfortunately had to do it again,” Chesnokova said.

Chesnokova said that similar commemorations are “happening all around the country,” and other Ukrainian student alliances are “organizing [at] their respective universities.”

In her speech at the vigil, Dubrova, who is from an occupied region of eastern Ukraine, said that she struggled to find words to describe the “10 years since [her] hometown was occupied” and the “10 years of the war” since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.

“No amount of words can return to me the people I’ve loved and lost, or return my sister her childhood, or my parents their hometown, where they were born and where they met and started our family and where they might never … be able to return again,” Dubrova said. 

Dubrova also described the struggle to reconcile the death of tens of thousands Ukrainians with the hope that Ukraine will be free again. 

Chesnokova said in their speech that it is important to recognize that the war between Russia and Ukraine has been “lasting for generations.”

“All of us carry very deep, rooted generation trauma and pain caused by Russia through centuries of genocides, repression [and] annihilation of our cultural communities,” Chesnokova said. “That’s something that we carry in ourselves when we go to [the Class of 1953 Commons] to eat our breakfast or go to classes, work on our theses and stuff like that. It does not go away.”

Chesnokova also thanked those who have been “walking alongside the Ukrainian community on campus” for their support. 

Podolets commemorated his godfather, a member of the special forces who died in combat after the invasion broke out in 2022. 

“[My godfather] and his unit sacrificed their lives to save villagers [in] nearby Kyiv to let them escape before the Russian army could enter their village,” Podolets said. 

Podolets also invited a moment of silence for “all of the soldiers who died during the war” and the soldiers “still on the frontlines.”

Next, Somoff spoke about the physical destruction and occupation of the areas that she grew up in.

“The entire topography of my childhood and youth is no more, obliterated and erased from the map,” Somoff said. “This is what the Russian invasion brings: destruction and death, not only of buildings, but first and foremost of people.”

Somoff shared several stories about those killed in Ukraine: a high school student who was killed for wearing a blue and yellow ribbon, a member of a city council who was killed for protesting the removal of a Ukrainian flag from the town hall and Somoff’s former university professor who was tortured for organizing a prayer for Ukraine. 

Kolomiyets spoke about the powerful role of the Ukrainian language and poetry in responding to the war. 

“Our language turns out to be as much a living organism as our bodies,” she said. 

Gladun said that human rights are now a privilege for Ukrainians because “safety is not given.” She then read a poem that she wrote about the absence of safety in Europe and around the world.  

Hulievska spoke about her grandmother who lives in an occupied village. According to Hulievska, she can only speak with her grandmother about the weather because the phone is confiscated by a social worker if she tries to share information about the war.

“We recognize what it is to be silent, what it is to be able to speak, how free we are here to be able to speak, what it is to have freedom of speech as a privilege,” Hulievska said. 

Hulievska also added that victory for Ukraine looks like the freedom of “the entirety of Ukraine with its land and with its people” and rejected notions of ceasefire agreements that concede land or people.

Fomin then discussed the text messages that he received on the day that the Russian Army invaded Ukraine in 2022. 

“For Ukrainians abroad, life just becomes a giant moral compromise,” Fomin said. “Every day you wake up, and you know that the best people of your country left their jobs and left their families and are out there to put their lives on the line. But you’re not there.”

Upper Valley resident Rich Fedorchak said that he attended the vigil because he is of Ukrainian descent and began to look into Ukrainian history when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022. 

“The story about Ukraine, to me, seems particularly egregious because it’s completely unprovoked other than a look to return to the Soviet era in Europe,” Fedorchak said. “It is an incredible threat to the safety of other countries.”

Fedorchak said that he previously attended other gatherings of Ukrainian students at Dartmouth and learned about the vigil from Chesnokova. 

“This is the second anniversary of the invasion, and if anything, we’re at a point where things really have to be done,” Fedorchak said. “Otherwise, this war can be lost and will be unless the United States continues to support Ukraine.”

According to Chesnokova, Ukraine has been able to persist in the war “only because of international support.”

Chesnokova said that they hoped that the vigil would spread more awareness about Ukraine among the community. According to Chesnokova, many people are unaware that the war has “been going on for 10 years,” since the 2014 annexation of Crimea, instead of just two years since the full-scale invasion in 2022.

“I remember coming into Dartmouth as a freshman [and] being asked if I speak Russian when [others heard] that I’m Ukrainian or being asked if Ukraine is a part of Russia,” Chesnokova said. “Vigils like this help promote the idea of factual politics … and the history of this very difficult relationship between Russia and Ukraine.”