A protester holds a sign that reads: “Peace & Autonomy for Ukraine.” She’s wearing blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag. She’s currently attending a protest for peace in Ukraine. (Ash Mehta)
A protester holds a sign that reads: “Peace & Autonomy for Ukraine.” She’s wearing blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag. She’s currently attending a protest for peace in Ukraine.

Ash Mehta

6,000 miles away

Making a difference from abroad

March 28, 2022

6,000 miles away, the largest war in Europe since World War Two is occuring. 6,000 miles away, 3.6 million Ukrainians have had to flee their home country. 6,000 miles away, thousands of civilians have been killed. 

How could anyone ever dream of making a difference from the Bay Area? Evidently, people have found a way.

Ukrainian student at Stanford takes action.

Catarina Buchatskiy hasn’t been able to sleep for more than a few hours at a time for the past week. Every time she does get a bit of rest, she wakes up panicking that she missed something important.

“I haven’t been able to go to classes, and overall, I’m just exhausted physically because I can’t fall asleep,” she said. “It’s very scary to think that, you know, at any moment I could check my phone and refresh and someone could say they’ve taken over and there’s not really much I can do.”

On Feb. 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine, a crowd of students gathered on the Stanford campus to condemn Russia. Buchatskiy, a Stanford student who grew up in Ukraine, was one of the lead organizers. 

She has also advocated strongly against Russia’s actions in other ways, helping organize a San Francisco “Stand With Ukraine” rally, among other efforts.

Despite this, she said she feels powerless so far from the war.

“I don’t feel as though I can contribute besides just watching the news,” Buchatskiy said. “I attend rallies and I mobilize and I do fundraising efforts here. But at the same time, it feels very far away from home.”

I think in a time of personal crisis, where you can feel so helpless, having something that shows that you’re not alone and that people are actually listening means a lot.”

— Ukrainian Stanford student Catarina Buchatskiy

Buchatskiy said she is planning on moving from organizing rallies from abroad to directly supporting Ukrainians. She is hoping to travel to Poland and provide aid to Ukrainians at war.

“I’m hoping to set up supply lines between Poland and Ukraine so we can get humanitarian, medical and military equipment across the border and continue to supply our troops so that they have everything they need to continue defending our country and standing strong,” she said. “I’m very excited to get on the ground, be able to contribute to something even more directly than I have been now.”

Buchatskiy has family and friends in Ukraine with whom she’s remained in contact. Though she said some of them have been able to flee to Poland, others remain in the country.

People should care about this war regardless of whether or not they have ties to it, she said.

“It feels baffling to me that people even feel the need to have a discussion about why people should care and whether people should care,” Buchatskiy said.

She’s been frustrated with some of the language some people are using to describe the war, and the minimizing effect it can have, she said.

“This is not the Ukraine crisis,” she said. “This is a war. ‘A crisis’ makes it seem like it’s some kind of internal conflict.”

She said that she appreciates the support of both Stanford’s Ukrainian community and America at large.

“It’s been amazing to organize and feel that you’re not alone, and feel that you’re not shouting into a void,” she said. “Students at Stanford that have no connection to Ukraine have been showing up at the events, helping me fundraise, donating, and so, I think in a time of personal crisis, where you can feel so helpless, having something that shows that you’re not alone and that people are actually listening means a lot.”

Raging Grannies protest against war

Around noon on March 6, a deafening torrent of car honks and a crowd of blue and yellow clothes, flags and signs flooded Town and Country Village. For an hour, protesters stood at the corner of Embarcadero and El Camino as passing cars flooded the streets with beeping to show their support.

This protest was organized by the Raging Grannies Action League — a group of women fighting for social justice — to show support for Ukraine and to speak out against war.

Attendee Kayla Whitney, who spent a year in 2008 teaching English in Ukraine and living with a host family, applauds that family’s courage in staying in their country to fight.

“I’m close to the family that I lived with, and I’m still in contact with them, and they had a five-year-old son at the time, so he’s now fighting the war,” Whitney said. “They’re staying and fighting in Ukraine. They’re very brave.”

You feel like you want to do something to help. As benign as this might be, I think it’s important.”

— Protester Kathy Orrico

Whitney said she felt happy to see the amount of support Ukraine has within the Palo Alto community.

“In the short amount of time that we’ve been standing here, with so many people honking, and it’s amazing to see how many people are really for peace and not war,” Whitney said.

Another attendee, Simon Chiu, draws a parallel between Hong Kong, where he’s from, and Ukraine. He said he feels discouraged at the power countries like Russia and China have.

“I feel it’s pretty hopeless because it’s always the worst, the most brutal, the baddest guy is going to have the short-term victory,” he said. “You just have no power to fight them, basically. I hope Ukraine, with the international support, they will stand for long. It’s pretty sad.”

Protests are an important way to communicate with the government, said attendee Kathy Orrico.

“I just feel it’s important for us to show our support for Ukraine, and to let our politicians know,” Orrico said. “I believe that a huge show of force, not necessarily saying an attack, but all the European countries, the U.S., I think if we really showed a concerted force, that Putin would back down, because he’d have no choice.”

Though the protest may be relatively small, Orrico said that it’s still important and makes her feel like she’s helping.

“You feel like you want to do something to help,” she said. “As benign as this might be, I think it’s important.”

Russian student weighs in

Polina watches as her country invades Ukraine, unable to freely speak out against it.

22-year-old Polina, who chose to keep her surname anonymous for safety, is currently a college student in Russia. She said she believes that her government is making the wrong choice in invading Ukraine.

“The government wrongly prioritizes becoming a unified country as soon as possible rather than finding unity,” she said. “This is war against the Ukrainian peoples, and it’s horrific.”

Polina said that she believes this war is history repeating itself. She draws parallels to the war with Georgia and the situation with Moldova.

“I guess Putin just thought he could get away with it again,” she said. “Moldova is in much the same position as Ukraine, a former member of the Soviet Union with a Russian backed separatist state that could easily end up recognized by Russia. It is just history going in circles. Hopefully it doesn’t end up this way.”

It’s important to take a stand for things in places where you can speak freely – say what needs to be heard. Senseless death leads nowhere.”

— Polina, a student in Russia

Polina believes that Russia used pre-existing civil unrest in Ukraine as a justification for the war.

“There are some separatist factions that have been rebelling in Ukraine for a while from what I know, and Putin has recognized them as official states. The fighting hasn’t stopped, so I think he used that as an excuse to invade

According to Polina, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was driven by capitalism and her country’s prominence in supplying oil around the world, as Russia is by far the largest oil supplier in Europe.

“​​The TLDR is quite literally capitalism and oil/natural gas reserves predicted in Ukraine, which could possibly beat out/threaten Russia as a petrostate in Europe,” she said.

Though many Russians have protested against their country’s war against Ukraine, this activism can put citizens in danger. Despite Russia technically having Constitutional freedom of speech, laws have been passed prohibiting discussion of the country’s actions against Ukraine as a “war” or an “invasion.” Laws against things like “petty hooliganism” or “participation in an unsanctioned rally” can also be weaponized against advocates, according to USA Today.

Polina encourages people in places with more freedom of speech and right to protest to use their voices for change.

“It’s important to take a stand for things in places where you can speak freely – say what needs to be heard,” she said. “Senseless death leads nowhere. I hope that the many families and citizens have found somewhere safe to relocate.”

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