Penn State Ukrainian Society Raises Awareness For Russia-Ukraine Conflict

The Penn State Ukrainian Society first began as a way to bring Ukrainian culture to students and community members on campus.

Now, amid Russia’s ongoing attack on Ukraine, the organization has resembled more of a family by providing emotional support and comfort for members who are personally affected by the conflict.

Due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, thousands of Ukrainian citizens have been forced to evacuate major cities, while many more are required to stay behind and fight for Ukraine’s independence. This long-standing conflict stems from Russia’s attempt to regain control of Ukraine following the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

Courtesy of the Ukrainian Society

Members of the Ukrainian Society, including President Maria Smereka, have personal connections to the conflict and the region. Many are originally from Ukraine, first-generation college students, and have families currently living inside Ukraine’s borders.

Smereka immigrated from Ukraine to attend Penn State and quickly found a home in the organization. She said Russia’s attack on Ukraine has resulted in a stressful few weeks for the society’s members.

“Many of us are sleep deprived and distressed. Our hearts hurt for those suffering in Ukraine,” Smereka said. “Most of us are having a difficult time focusing on school and other obligations when our people are dying back in Ukraine, and we are limited in what we can do about it.”

Usually, the organization meets up to learn about Ukrainian art, history, and food. More recently, meetings have consisted of strategizing ways to raise money and making posters for rallies on campus that hope to spread awareness about the invasion and raise support for Ukraine.

“Putin and his forces have invaded Ukraine, claimed territories, and are aiming to overthrow the government. This is a violent attack on democracy, sovereignty, and freedom,” the Ukrainian Society said in a recent Instagram post encouraging others to come to its rally on Thursday.

Smereka and other members of the organization encourage anyone who can support Ukraine. She said that donating money to Ukrainian organizations and contacting congressional representatives to send funding and supplies to Ukraine are the best ways to help.

“The greatest source of comfort is coming together as a group and trying to help,” Smereka said.

Penn State has shown its support for Ukraine in a statement written by President Eric Barron. The Bryce Jordan Center and State College Municipal Building both lit up with the colors of the Ukrainian flag this week, too.

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About the Author

Ava Brendgord

Ava is a senior from Houston, TX majoring in broadcast journalism. She loves coffee and bagels, traveling, and keeping a healthy balance between watching the news and reality television. Follow her at @avabrendgord on Instagram or email her at [email protected].

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