Harvard students and affiliates reacted with shock and horror to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch a military invasion of Ukraine in the early morning local time on Thursday.
Explosions rocked cities across the country, including Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, a massive escalation in a war between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists that has been ongoing for over seven years. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced 137 Ukranians have been killed since the invasion began, in a speech on Friday shortly after midnight local time.
Georgiy A. Kent ’22, a former president of the Lowell House Society of Russian Bell Ringers, organized an “emergency” ringing of the bells Thursday afternoon where they performed the Ukrainian national anthem.
“Given the news with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I decided that the Lowell Bells could do a symbolic gesture in solidarity and show our support for Ukraine,” Kent said.
He said the Bell Ringers hoped to send the message that “we support the Ukrainian people's decision to be a free and sovereign nation, and we support democracy and peace.”
Ilya Timtchenko, a U.S. citizen of Ukrainian background and chair of the Ukrainian Caucus at the Harvard Kennedy School, said the invasion of Ukraine gave him flashbacks to the Euromaidan protests of 2013-2014, which led to the ousting of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
“It is a flashback in terms of where you see people getting worried, unifying, trying to resist, or resisting what Russia is trying to do,” he said. “But at the same time, right now, the scale is much bigger.”
“There, you’re dealing with protests, whereas right now you’re dealing with a full fledged war,” Timtchenko said.
Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf warned that war in Ukraine meant that the world will be fundamentally changed in a message sent to HKS affiliates on Thursday.
“The consequences of this war will extend well beyond Ukraine,” Elmendorf wrote.
He said the Kennedy School plans to host a series of discussions to “understand the causes and consequences of what is happening in Ukraine,” including an event with professor and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash B. Carter that will “probably” be held at an Institute of Politics forum next Wednesday.
Mariana Budjeryn, a Ukrainian research associate at the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, said she was grateful for the outpouring of support from her colleagues at HKS.
“Everyone basically came out and reached out to me and expressed their horror, but also their words of concern for my family back in Ukraine,” she said. “I just can’t emphasize enough how, even though that seems like such a small thing, how in a time like this, that kind of support matters.”
Nadezhda Vikulina, a graduate student, said she attended a protest outside the Massachusetts State House on Thursday to show that as a Russian, she is opposed to the war.
“The war is horrifying, and we have very little power or choice to be involved in the war at all,” she said. “None of my friends from Russia — not a single person I know — is rooting for this war.”
Polina Galouchko ’23, a Russian citizen, said she is now being forced to reconsider her relationship with her home country.
“I don’t feel like I identify anymore with the country that wages a war on its neighbors,” she said.
Alexander Zhigalin ’23, an international student from Russia, said he is afraid student visas for Russian citizens will stop being issued or that existing visas will be nullified as part of Western sanctions against Russia.
“It’s very uncertain if I’d be even able to stay on the student visa — if I’d be even able to finish Harvard, let alone stay here in the U.S.,” he said. “That's very hard to predict and just gives you a very hopeless feeling.”
Leise H. Sandeman, an HKS student, organized a joint petition between public policy schools at Harvard, Oxford, and Princeton to condemn the invasion of Ukraine. As of Thursday evening, the petition had amassed more than 300 responses, two-thirds of which were from HKS.
“It’s absolutely necessary to show solidarity with Ukraine and with the Ukrainian people,” Sandeman said. “Silence is truly complacency in this case.”
—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.