War-shattered Ukrainian students sign up for online classes at DePaul: ‘My studies help me do my best to forget everything that’s going on’ | Nation

ByMike V. Cooper

Apr 15, 2022

CHICAGO — When air raid sirens began sounding at 4 a.m. recently in Lviv, Ukraine, college student Marta Haiduchok began her day by seeking refuge in the basement of her building.

More than 12 hours later, Haiduchok, 20, zoomed in on her online classes at DePaul University, where she is one of 100 Ukrainian students learning alongside their American classmates in the university’s virtual classrooms. University of Chicago.

“When the war started, I was super anxious all the time and had trouble concentrating. But in my case, I put so much money into my education, my studies help me do my best to forget everything that’s going on,” Haiduchok said via a FaceTime interview with the Tribune this week from his home in Lviv, located in western Ukraine about 40 miles from Poland.

After the Russian attacks upended the daily lives of millions of Ukrainians, including students, DePaul partnered with Ukrainian Catholic University and other higher education institutions in the region to enroll more than 100 Ukrainian students in 42 of the University of Chicago’s online courses this spring. .

“We were perfectly positioned to be able to help, as we operate on the quarter system and have had a partnership with the Ukrainian Catholic University for a few years,” said GianMario Besana, associate vice-rector for global engagement and learning. online at DePaul.

Besana said he and several of DePaul’s colleagues had planned to visit the university in Ukraine in June, “but obviously everything is on hiatus, so instantly the conversation shifted to ‘what can we do to help Ukraine? ? ”

After learning that many Ukrainian students and their families have been displaced from their homes and universities across the country are operating at reduced capacity, Besana said DePaul contacted professors who were scheduled to teach online classes for the spring term, asking for volunteers interested in hosting Ukrainian students to zoom into their virtual classrooms.

Given the eight-hour time difference with Chicago, students from Ukraine were encouraged to enroll in online classes offered early in the day to allow for as much synchronized instruction as possible, Besana said.

“War is no longer an abstract concept for our DePaul students, because now they know classmates like Marta and Sofia, which is really powerful,” Besana said.

Sofia Kekukh, 18, who is studying English philology at the Kyiv-Mohyla National Academy, said she was enrolled in seven online courses this term – five with her university in Ukraine and two at DePaul.

Kekukh, who shared her story via a FaceTime interview with the Tribune this week, said she was studying online from temporary accommodation in an apartment in Lviv, where she arrived recently after she and her parents abruptly left. their home in kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. , in February.

“It was dangerous to stay there. … My boyfriend called me at 6 am and said, ‘the war has started.’ We could hear the air missiles, so we left Kyiv the next day,” Kekukh said.

“I left everything I had in my life and only took my backpack,” she said.

The family drove to an area in central Ukraine, where Kekukh’s parents are staying with relatives, as she boarded a train for a 16-hour journey to Lviv , where she completes her online classes.

“We see Russian troops destroying our city, killing civilians, and I don’t understand how they can kill children,” Kekukh said. “But I like the study process because it forces me to focus, and I won’t be of any help to my country without an education.”

Kekukh is enrolled in an online course taught by Pascale-Anne Brault, a French professor at DePaul, who said that when the university appealed to professors willing to accept additional students into their online classrooms, her first thought was: “why not? ”

One of the hurdles Ukrainian students faced early on was ordering the textbook online, a problem Brault says was solved when publisher Cengage immediately agreed to provide students with free e-books and necessary platforms.

“What really struck me about Ukrainian students is that they are extremely resilient people, even in the face of these atrocities,” Brault said. “They are thirsty for knowledge, very eager to participate, and their inspiring work ethic sets the tone for the rest of the class.”

DePaul’s teacher, Clara Orban, echoed Brault’s admiration for Ukrainian students and said those enrolled in her Italian 101 course – which she teaches in person, with six Ukrainian students joining in line – are “extremely concentrated”.

“Many of us feel helpless to do anything, and yes, we can contribute to a Ukrainian aid organization, but is that enough?” Orban said. “What DePaul was suggesting, enrolling Ukrainian students in our online courses, is extremely concrete, so I immediately said ‘yes’.”

Speaking from her home in Lviv, Haiduchok, a history student, said that after two years of teaching online in times of the pandemic, she was delighted when the Ukrainian Catholic University reopened its campus for in-person instruction at the start of the semester in January.

But within weeks, the Russian invasion and escalating war closed the campus again in February.

Haiduchok, who in addition to being enrolled full-time at the Catholic University of Ukraine, is taking two online courses at DePaul, recalls looking out her apartment window as plumes of black smoke filled the sky after that a Russian missile hit a repair factory near Lviv. airport.

“Knowing that I have to study 24/7 really helps me, although it can be very difficult to concentrate on a task if every five minutes you scroll and see which city has been bombed , and trying to figure out what’s going on, so I’ve limited myself to only checking the news every two to three hours,” Haiduchok said.

An aspiring historian – after graduating, she plans to pursue a master’s degree, followed by a doctorate. — Haiduchok documents his wartime experiences and hopes to one day teach at a university in Ukraine.

“I really like how open American students are, because they’ll tell you everything and share their thoughts, which is really cool,” Haiduchok said. “War is hard for the average person to talk about because it seems so far away and hard to imagine. But when I stand up and bring up this subject, they all want to know more.