UVU Shows Support for Ukrainian Students and Nation

As Russian invaders storm across Ukraine’s sovereign borders 5,898 miles away, UVU's campus community rallies together to show their solidarity and support.


As Russian invaders storm across Ukraine’s sovereign borders — killing hundreds of civilians, including more than a dozen children — 5,898 miles away, Utah Valley University’s (UVU) campus community rallies together to show their solidarity and support.

On Feb. 28, UVU lit the UCCU Center of its Orem campus yellow and blue — the colors of the Ukrainian flag — as a show of support for the people of Ukraine. Meanwhile, UVU is doing its part to help members of the campus community — especially the 13 Ukrainian students currently attending UVU — cope with the Russia-Ukraine war currently afflicting Europe.

Katia Afinogenova, an International Student Council member, illustration student, and native of Kyiv, said she is in a constant state of anxiety as she has little communication with friends and family back home.

“We all try to have communications with our parents and friends,” Afinogenova said. “They reply once a day, we’re all in big distress physically and mentally, but I can’t imagine how it is for the people back in Ukraine.”

Her mother left Kyiv on Feb. 26, and is traveling to the safer western Ukraine, but her childhood friends and teachers are still in the nation’s capital.

“As far as I know, most of them are staying in bunkers underground in the subway stations or bunkers near their homes,” Afinogenova said. “So, not great at all.”

UVU’s International Students Services (ISS) is working to ease the burden of students like Afinogenova.

“We have reached out all of our Ukrainian students multiple times,” said Stephen Crook, ISS director. “We want them to know that we're behind them and that we have lots of support are on campus.”

Crook said International Student Services is looking at allocating emergency funds to Ukrainian students who may be suffering monetarily due to banking issues resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“We have funds that can be used on an emergency basis,” Crook said. “With the developing situation affecting Ukrainian banks, we’re able to get money for our Ukrainian students to help them with everything from tuition, room and board, and other living expenses. We want to make sure our Ukrainian students know that International Student Services is here to offer any kind of support that they need.”

ISS has stayed in close communication with UVU’s Ukrainian students, offering words of encouragement as well as referrals to UVU Student Mental Health Services. UVU Crisis Services Director J.C. Graham said Crisis Services — a part of Student Health Services that provides support for students in moments of crisis — said her office is anticipating an uptick of visitors because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  

“It’s common for folks to feel distress,” Graham said. “It's a normal reaction — we're all humans, right? If people are having difficulty focusing and functioning and doing their daily activities, like going to work or going to school, I would encourage them to come out to talk with us.”

Graham added that there are additional resources outside UVU for those troubled by traumatic world events, such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) tips for Survivors of a Disaster or Other Traumatic Event document, which provides helpful ideas on how to manage stress amid traumatic events. Graham also recommends the SafeUT app, an application resource that's available 24/7 for crisis support, as well as the Disaster Distress Helpline. “These are great resources,” Graham said. "We want folks to know that there are multiple beneficial services available to them."

The International Student Council, a student-governed body, is also responsible for providing counseling and services to international students at UVU. Those services have become personal for council member Lina Varionova, a native of Derazhnia, a city in the Khmelnytskyi oblast, a region of western Ukraine. Varionova has been personally affected by the Russian-instigated conflict in Ukraine.

“I’m heartbroken,” Varionova said. “I don’t think I’ve slept or eaten normally in the past five days.”

Varionova’s family has remained in central Kyiv as Russian military forces have attacked her homeland.

“I could hear the bombs blowing up as I spoke on the phone with them,” Varionova said. “Most of my friends are in bomb shelters. My friend is 40 weeks pregnant and hiding. I’m very emotionally exhausted right now.”

Varionova has expressed survivor’s guilt for being safe here in Utah, and anxiety about not knowing if friends and family will be safe. “For them, you don’t know what’s next,” she said. “If you asked me, say, right now if they’re safe for one second, it could all change in the next hour, or even the next second.”

Varionova said she has felt a lot of support from her friends across the globe, including the friends she’s made at UVU. Additionally, she suggested that the school help by extending deadlines to those students who feel especially affected during this crisis.

“We need to work closely with our teachers to extend deadlines,” Varionova said. “Emotionally, it's impossible to concentrate on anything. I think students should expect their classes won't be failed because of the current situation.”

She hopes that the situation will improve in her country. Still, Varionova pleads with the campus community to remember Ukraine beyond the current breaking-news cycle and not let other issues push the Russia-Ukraine war out of their minds.

“I think people need to be understanding and not to forget about it in one week,” she said. “Because usually, unfortunately, that's how those events go. It's very talkable in a week, and then people forget about it next week.”

ISS Director Crook wants those feeling downtrodden by the Russia-Ukraine war to know there is help and support for them at UVU. He and the ISS Office are collecting donations for the Ukrainian Red Cross to help bring non-perishable food, hygiene products, first aid materials, bedding, candles, and clothing to the people of Ukraine.

“We’re doing all these things to try to help them support the students. What’s happening now is a terrible thing. It's an attack on a sovereign country, and we ought to have a response to that.”

Ukrainian students at UVU

Ukrainian students at UVU


Donate to the UVU Relief for Ukraine fund by visiting the International Student Services Office (LA 114) or the Department of Language and Cultures (CB 306). Monetary donations are made via Venmo: @ukraine_fund 

UVU Crisis Services are available for students who are experiencing a crisis. They are welcome to come to Student Health Services Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. (excluding campus closures) and request to meet with a crisis therapist. Student Health Services is located in the Sorensen Student Center in SC 221, telephone number 801-863-8876.