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UBC should take firmer stance against war: Ukrainian student

Vancouver, March 9: Liliya Syvystka is just weeks away from finishing her film production program at the University of British Columbia, but as she prepares for her final thesis, her mind is focused on her home country and her loved ones back in Ukraine.

“I know that with all my heart and mind I’m fully there,” the fourth-year student said. “Even though I’m in Vancouver, I still can react to flying planes, but it’s nothing compared to what my friends are experiencing right now. And of course, one part you can feel also guilty that you’re so safe.”

Her family members are in Kyiv and Kharkiv and have decided to stay. The men in her family have joined the territorial defence forces, she said.

Honestly, no one is safe. They’re not safe. You never know when the next bomb is going to fall,” she said.

The 22-year-old said she has been frustrated by the university and the president’s responses thus far.

President and Vice-Chancellor Santa Ono released a statement on Feb. 24, saying he was deeply concerned about the attacks and the impacts they would have on the university community.

“These attacks are unwarranted, unprovoked and unacceptable,” Ono wrote. “We join Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier John Horgan in deploring this illegal and unjust war, and echo the international community’s calls for de-escalation and an immediate resolution to the conflict.”

He also outlined how students on the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses could receive financial and mental health supports.

Syvystka said she would like to see the university take a firmer stance against the war happening in her country.

“Firstly, if you actually want to give any emotional support, the biggest emotional support university can give is to show that they actually care. The only way to show that it’s actually they’re actually caring is to talk about what is happening,” she said, adding that one statement released two weeks ago is not enough.

UBC spokesperson Matthew Ramsey said the well-being of their students is a top priority.

“The university recognizes that this must be an incredibly stressful time for Ukrainian students, Russian students, Belarusian students, and indeed for everyone in our student body, staff and faculty who are watching events unfold in Ukraine. It’s incredibly upsetting and the university has been very clear in that this invasion is unlawful,” he said.

He said anyone needing financial supports can contact their enrollment services advisor, and they may be eligible for emergency bursaries.

Syvsytka said she tried getting financial help but doesn’t believe it goes far enough, adding the tuition will be deferred and she would still be expected to pay later on.

“I will work full time but it still won’t help me to pay my tuition and support my family — and pay for the rent in Vancouver,” she said. “Officially they say that they’re helping, but when you actually directly talk to them, you don’t see how they take specific actions for the situation in Ukraine…. Nothing like this has happened since the Second World War, and that is why it also requires specific actions.”

She said she feels the added financial strain because she will be sending supplies to loved ones and providing financial help to them.

“It’s not just the question of money; it’s literally losing everything. And trying to support financially not only yourself and paying international student fee, but also trying to support all your family and friends back home, knowing that the war is going to belong,” she said.

Syvsytka is currently raising money for bulletproof vests and other army supplies and asks people to consider donating to the Ukrainian National Bank that’s opened accounts to support the army, humanitarian aid, and other charities.

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