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Terps Unite to Support Ukraine

New Student Organization, Medical Supplies Collection and Body Armor Donation Among Campus Efforts

By Annie Krakower

Students make Ukrainian flag ribbons

Tetiana Tytko, standing, leads volunteers in making Ukrainian flag ribbon pins last month in McKeldin Library. She’s among the Terps banding together to support Ukraine amid the war. The University of Maryland Police Department is also helping the cause, donating 25 protective vests (below).

Ribbon photo by Stephanie S. Cordle; vest photo courtesy of UMPD

When Russian troops stormed across Ukraine’s borders on Feb. 24 to begin a brutal invasion, University of Maryland doctoral student Viktoriia Savchuk was the one to awaken and alert her family in the city of Lutsk nearly 5,000 miles away.

Amid the surreal and scary moment, she knew she had to do something to help not only her loved ones, but the millions of others threatened by Russian missiles, bombs and ground assaults that have shaken Ukraine from East to West. She’s been heartened to see that others at UMD share her concern.

“It’s really important that the campus community is not staying silent,” Savchuk said. “We need to do our part. It’s not only Ukraine’s problem. It’s a problem of the whole world.”

Through collections, conversations and coming together, here’s how she and other Terps are working to support the cause in Ukraine:

Creating Community
As the war broke out in late February, Terps like second-language acquisition doctoral student Tetiana Tytko, who is from Western Ukraine, looked for a community.

“I remember I just wanted to get connected to some other Ukrainians,” she said. “I knew that they were probably going through the same experience as I did, and nobody else could understand me at that time. I felt very lonely, very disappointed, very much lost and saddened.”

With the help of posts on Reddit and other social media, Tytko and 42 fellow members of the campus community who want to show support formed the new Ukrainian Student Association. Together, they organize and attend rallies and vigils, like the one held on McKeldin Mall shortly after Russia invaded; host fundraising events, such as a screening of the Ukrainian movie “Homeward;” and raise awareness by distributing Ukrainian flag ribbons and crocheted sunflowers, which have become a symbol of peace in the country.

Although the group is not yet an official UMD club, the mutual support is enough to make an impact, Tytko said.

“The most important thing is what we can do collectively as a group of people to raise some money to help Ukraine, to help each other in this situation, to go to the protests together,” she said, “to just collectively feel as if we’re being useful, even being far away from home.”

Body armor

Body Armor Donation
The new group’s fundraisers caught the attention of the University of Maryland Police Department, sparking the department to contribute to the cause of Ukraine’s defense.

UMPD had a surplus of expired body armor—technically past its warranty, but still effective, Chief David Mitchell said—that could help protect Ukrainian citizens taking up arms against Russia, as well as doctors, nurses and journalists. Officers contacted Tytko ahead of one of the Ukrainian Student Association’s on-campus events in mid-March, then met to show the students the equipment.

“Those vests will save lives in Ukraine,” said Tytko. “Feeling supported on campus, feeling support from different communities, that has been very valuable for me and for other Ukrainian students.”

UMPD boxed up 25 sets of armor and connected with officers in Vermont, who were also donating. All the vests then went to the California National Guard and were shipped to Ukraine from there.

“It’s our way of coming together as law enforcement personnel,” Mitchell said. “Our body armor is safely over in Ukraine now, and we’re proud of that.”

Suitcases of Supplies
The last time Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, Savchuk, now studying communications at UMD, worked in her home country to distribute information about providing first aid to those wounded in fighting. So she knows firsthand the importance of access to basic medical supplies.

She and other Terps have been working to collect tourniquets, bandages and other essentials—“supplies that are critically important to save lives,” she said.

In the first weeks of the invasion, Savchuk and her roommate, UMD grad student Yana Chapailo, made a list of needed items with links where donors could purchase them and have them shipped to their apartment, where they would pack them up in suitcases and give them to D.C.-area Ukrainians who every couple of weeks head to Poland, then Ukraine.

The effort, now carried out on a larger scale with local organizations like United Help Ukraine and churches like the St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral, has resulted in around 50 suitcases of supplies so far, Savchuk said.

“Because of the numbers of people that were joining the army without any equipment, we needed to supply everything as fast as possible,” she said.

Continued Conversation
Besides vigils, protests and rallies, the Ukrainian Student Association hopes to bring students together in a panel to reflect on the war and its impact.

With the assistance of UMD’s Graduate Student Government, which last month passed a resolution to help fund the panel, the group is planning to gather students from Ukraine, Russia, Georgia and other former Soviet countries to discuss the humanitarian crisis and what it means going forward.

“This is what we need right now,” Tytko said. “It’s not only about helping; it’s about also understanding other people who are on campus and who are involved or who have suffered from this war.”

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