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A Ukrainian Perspective: Foreign Exchange Student Speaks to her Experience

Tetiana Trach hopes to continue her education in the states and has organized a gofundme to help make this possible. This link provides more information: https://gofund.me/eb18901f. Continue reading to learn of her journey to the US from Ukraine and how current events frame her everyday life.

Tetiana Trach came to the United States at the beginning of this school year – August 2021. At that time, the current Russia-Ukraine war remained speculative. When the invasion started this February, Tetiana’s family, still in Ukraine, was first and foremost on her mind. 

“When the war started, around two days after that, [my family] moved to Germany.” When the fighting broke out, countless families were thrown into chaos as the uncertainty of their situation threatened to uproot their life. “It was a matter of panic,” Tetiana stresses, “a lot of people were going to Poland, heading to the border, anything to get to other countries because they were scared.” 

Tetiana Trach (far right) with her family.

Staying in contact with her family has been a priority for Tetiana throughout the school year and especially during these uncertain times. Her mother, father, and younger brother are thankfully all together in Germany now. “My dad was working in Germany, so he was there. My mom and my younger brother were in Ukraine, and I was here [in the US],” Tetiana recounts. When the invasion began, their family knew they needed to be together. “My dad decided either my mom and brother would come to him, or he would come to them.” Reuniting in Germany proved to be the best solution, as they had to consider what returning to Ukraine would mean for Tetiana’s father. “If my dad came to Ukraine, he would have to join the army,” Tetiana shares, “right now, if you are a man and would like to leave the country, you are not allowed to. Only women and children could leave.” With that in mind, Tetiana’s family packed the documents they’d need and any items they could fit in their car, and left for Germany – all while Tetiana stayed in touch from the states.

The Russian influence in Ukraine has been present since the 2010s, and for that reason, Tetiana was shocked when the most recent push of violent invasion occurred early this year. “We already had a war with Russia since 2014, but it was with the East of Ukraine,” Tetiana notes, “those territories were kind of occupied. While they had their own government and declared themselves independent, they were not independent, and they are still not.” In reality, “they are actually governed by Russian politicians.” 

The uptick in news surrounding Russia foreshadowed an invasion. From Borshchiv, Ukraine, on the western side of the country, Tetiana didn’t feel the Russian influence that the East of Ukraine did, but she was well aware of the rocky history between Ukraine and Russia: “Historically, Russia always had some kind of influence over Ukrainian Eastern territories, because those territories were part of Russia since the 18th century.” While Putin had thrown threats of reuniting the Soviet Union, the mere notion seemed implausible to Tetiana, who had lived in near proximity to Russia all her life, and tenuous though the relationship was, a complete invasion was hardly expected. “But then in 2022, we heard a lot of information from American and European news that Russia is going to invade very soon,” Tetiana continues, “so we kind of knew that it may happen, but no one really expected it.” Her mindset, along with many of her fellow Ukrainians, was, as she put it, “Putin doesn’t have the audacity to do it, but he did.”

When asked about her opinions on Russia as a Ukrainian citizen, Tetiana admitted that her feelings are mixed with the Russian people. “When the first war started, like 2014 [with Eastern Ukraine], we didn’t stop talking to Russians or having relationships with Russians,” Tetiana points out, “a lot of Ukrainians have families there and have Russians as friends.” Tetiana herself stayed in contact with friends from her neighboring country, “I do, I have a friend who is from Russia, and it was never an issue.” 

This latest invasion, however, has left more of a strain on Tetiana’s opinion of the Russian public. Tetiana understands that the Russian government is ultimately responsible for the invasion. “We don’t hate Russian people, we hate the Russian government for what it is doing.” At the same time, Tetiana longs for greater resistance to the invasion from the Russian people. “In this situation, a lot of Ukrainians, and partially me, kind of blame Russian people too, because if they let their government do whatever it wants to do, then they are kind of responsible,” she asserts, “when people don’t protest and they just stay at home, when they see what’s going on and see, not just soldiers, but civilians die, and they don’t do anything about it – this is supporting it.”

Tetiana has been active in her support for Ukraine. Just last month, Tetiana attended a rally in support of Ukraine at the state capital. There, she gathered with a large and diverse crowd, all in support of Ukraine. Speeches from Ukrainians, Russians, local legislators, and even Senator Debbie Stabenow were given in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. 

Tetiana’s message to all Americans and especially high schoolers like herself is to be tuned in to what’s going on in the world. “Be more interested in what’s going on,” Tetiana implores, “I totally understand that Europe is a world away, and I care first about my country as well, but what’s going on between Ukraine and Russia is not just a war between two countries.” The United States is heavily involved, even without sending the military, by supplying vital funds, weapons, and artillery: “The US is already involved, so I want Americans to be more interested in what’s going on, to check the news, because the more people know about this the better.” As awareness of the Ukrainian situation increases, more support can be given with the hope of preserving Ukraine’s democracy against Russia’s brutal invasion.

While Tetiana helps pave a future for her country through local interviews and activist rallies, her own future remains uncertain as to where life will take her. Currently, returning to Ukraine is out of the question: “It’s not safe to go back, and I can’t take a flight to Ukraine right now.” Her foreign exchange program is working to find the best situation for her, whether that is in the US or with her family in Germany. “[The program coordinators] don’t have the exact answer of what to do. It is unexpected for them as well,” Tetiana shares, “they say that our safety is their priority.” This exchange program will be working with each Ukrainian student individually to create the best plan: “It will be different for each of us, some students came from the west, some from the east, and some of the families are abroad, like mine.”

No matter the size of the donation, any contribution will help make Tetiana’s education possible.

Looking ahead to plans for college, Tetiana is hoping to attend college here in the states. Taking initiative to make this a possibility, she has started a gofundme and is working towards her goal to assist in paying for room and board, as she earned a full-tuition scholarship. By supporting Tetiana’s education, this community will help her pursue her dreams of securing a degree in International Relations, which she plans to use to serve her homeland, fighting for freedom over tyranny.

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