Asst. News Editor
This article is also available in print: Quaker Campus, Volume 19 — Issue 7, dated March 17, 2022, on the Whittier College campus.
When she joined the Zoom meeting, Professor of Music Alexandra Grabarchuk had her hometown of Crimea set as her background. When she was born, Crimea belonged to Soviet Ukraine, which fell apart just a few years after her birth. At seven years old, Prof. Grabarchuk moved with her family to the U.S., and, shortly after, Crimea was annexed. “[It was] actually invaded,” said Prof. Grabarchuk. “Ironically, right now, [Crimea] is kind of a safe place to be because it had already been invaded. So, it’s not being targeted by attacks at the moment, which is kind of a blessing.” Her two surviving grandparents currently reside in Crimea. She also has aunts, uncles, and cousins in Crimea and mainland Ukraine. Two of her cousins were able to escape in the early days of the most recent invasion.
“Even though I left when I was fairly young, I kept a lot of ties to the culture,” said Professor Grabarchuk. “I used to visit and spend a month out of every year in the summer [ . . . ] when I was younger. I just have a lot of both cultural and familial, and sort of ‘soul’ ties, to Ukraine.”
QC: “For the family that is in Ukraine, particularly in the less safe parts of Ukraine, what do you know about how they’re staying safe?”
Grabarchuk: “The folks who are in bigger cities, like Kyiv, that are being targeted with missile attacks [ . . . ] they’re mostly out in the subway stations with everybody else. And that’s where people are sort of sheltering, for right now. If they have a house with a basement, they are in the basement [ . . . ] hiding out from the missile strikes. In places where I have family and it’s a little bit more rural, where there [are] not big cities that are being as targeted, they are just sitting at home and not sticking their noses out onto the street, basically sheltering in place.
QC: What should we know that we do not already know? Is there any information you think we should share that you have not seen shared yet?
Grabarchuk: I don’t know that there is anything that hasn’t already been shared. The news is pretty good about keeping us updated, which is a mixed blessing — at least for people like me, who have personal ties because I don’t want to be glued to the news all the time, sort of being scared and anxious. But, sometimes I am. I think the thing to kind of know that maybe people aren’t talking about as much is that [ . . . ] there’s incredible state media control [in Russia] right now. In fact, [there’s] full-on censorship happening. Russian citizens are not even really being told about what’s happening in Ukraine right now. When they are being told about it, they’re being fed a pack of lies. It’s really infuriating. There are people who are sort of getting their news from elsewhere; they’re in touch with people in the West who can tell them, ‘Hey, the rest of the world is seeing this happening, and this is what’s happening.’ But, I think it’s really sad and frustrating, and just infuriating that such a controlled media and controlled information [is] the economy right now.
QC: What kind of support have you seen for Ukraine? Do you feel like it is enough?
Grabarchuk: There has definitely been a lot of speaking out about what’s happening, which is great. My family and I really appreciated [when] President Oubré sent out a sort of campus-wide communiqué about standing with Ukraine and voicing support; I think that’s really good. There have been lots of celebrities speaking out. It’s better when people are able to give money rather than just speak out because there’s a lot of resources that need to be funded right now. I would say, yes, there’s been lots of verbal support, and, in terms of whether it’s enough, I’m very torn on the issues. Part of me says, ‘No, of course it’s not enough. We should be doing more. We should be stepping in.’ You know, when you see a big kid bullying a smaller kid on the playground, it’s an honorable thing to do — to step in and help. I’m well aware of the fact that the Russian president has threatened nuclear action, and that, in this particular metaphor, the big bully on the playground has a shotgun and might shoot up everybody if he is provoked. That’s just really difficult. Having said that, it’s really difficult watching my family, my country, and my people suffering for absolutely no good reason. It’s just needless death and needless suffering, so I’m torn on the issue.
QC: How can we help as a community?
Grabarchuk: First and foremost, if you’re able, give money to aid efforts. Give money to the Red Cross. Give money to wherever in the war effort you specifically want to support. I know not everyone can do that, and that’s totally okay. Just as important is reaching out to your elected representatives and telling them how you’re feeling about this. Asking for ‘closing the sky’ or ‘protecting the sky’ — instituting a ‘no-fly’ zone over Ukraine — can be seen as a sort of controversial measure, but, if that’s something that you personally believe we should be doing, that’s something you can talk to your representatives about. Otherwise, you can ask them to continue sanctioning oligarchs and to allow for easier immigration and asylum procedures for folks fleeing Ukraine.
QC: Is there anything else you would like to say about the situation?
Grabarchuk: I think the thing that sticks out for me right now is [that] there really has been a lot of vocal response to this war, and that’s wonderful. We should be talking about it. We should be using those words. People need to know what’s going on, especially because there’s a whole host of people, particularly in Russia, who don’t know what’s going on. But, I will say it also breaks my heart to think about situations in the past, and that are still currently happening, where there hasn’t been vocal support simply because the victims have been people of color, or they have not been white Europeans. I’m a white European, and I’m glad that my country is on people’s minds right now. I’m very grateful for that. I also just ask folks to think about their own responses to when similar things have happened in other places, like Syria, for example, or in Palestine. Think about how our inward reactions might be different because the people suffering are brown.
Professor Grabarchuk put together an email of resources sent to faculty and staff, which both she and the QC would like to extend to the rest of the Whittier College community. Language is important when speaking about the situation; name the war (Russia-Ukraine war), name the aggressor (Putin), and avoid using words that imply shared responsibility for the war between Russia and Ukraine. Again, donating to causes that Grabarchuk spoke about is always ideal, but money is not the only way to help. You can contact Congressional representatives at https://democracy.io or call 202.456.1111 and leave suggestions to sanction Russian oligarchs, institute the no-fly zone, or provide fighter planes to Ukraine. It is possible to help; small actions go a long way in dire situations such as this one. Listen to the voices in your community most affected by this war.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Professor Grabarchuk