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As war in Ukraine continues, Kenyon holds vigil and panel

As war in Ukraine continues, Kenyon holds vigil and panel

Mayor of Gambier Leeman Kessler ’04 spoke at the vigil. | JOSHUA HERTZ

On March 25, the Center for Global Engagement held a vigil in the Alumni Dining Room in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. 

At the event, members of the Kenyon community voiced support for those affected. “Today, we offer our witness not only to the suffering of those within the country’s borders. We also bear witness to the suffering of those with deep connections to Ukraine,” Associate Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Ted Mason said. He also voiced the College’s support for Ukrainian students. “Kenyon wishes to do everything in its power to support you, to relieve some of your pain,” he said. 

Mayor of Gambier Leeman Kessler ’04 also spoke at the vigil. “Since its founding, Gambier has been an international community, one that cannot take for granted our connections beyond our borders,” he said. “When there is strife, when there is injustice, it goes beyond those borders and affects us here.”   

As Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine enters its fifth week, the United Nations has recorded 3,039 Ukrainian civilian casualties, with 1,179 killed and 1,860 injured. According to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the actual figures are much greater, as stalled reports from regions experiencing hostilities arrive and await confirmation. OHCHR also estimates that the conflict has displaced at least 10 million Ukrainians, about a quarter of the country’s population, and at least 3.9 million of those displaced have been able to flee the region.

Ukrainian students Yana Honcharuk ’24 and Sofiia Shyroka ’25 delivered impassioned and emotional remarks to those in attendance. Honcharuk read three poems recently written by Ukrainian soldiers. Those gathered were particularly moved by the third poem entitled “Lovers on a Bicycle,” written by Ostap Slyvynsky the day before he left his home to defend Ukraine. “Let me be at least until midday, I won’t live through the night,” the poem read.  

Shyroka, in her speech, spoke about her home and how similar it was to the U.S. “A home that was supposed to be a synonym for safety is now a target for Russian missiles,” she said. She also expressed her frustration at the gruesome events her friends had experienced. “Something in this world is totally off, and I think it’s our responsibility to react to it,” she declared.

Shyroka’s call to action is part of a larger discussion on campus about foreign involvement in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. To address this, the Center for the Study of American Democracy (CSAD) held a panel discussion featuring Kenyon alumni familiar with the issue on March 23. CSAD Director David Rowe moderated the discussion, while panelists included Defense News reporter and National Press Club President Jennifer Judson ’04, former Peace Corps Ukraine volunteer Emily Olson ’17 and Atlantic Council Senior Fellow and News Editor of Tablet Magazine Jeremy Stern ’11. 

The panel members spoke about the broader political, cultural and economic impacts of the conflict and the incentives and obligations of other countries, specifically the United States. “Fundamentally, this is Putin’s desire to restore the Russian Empire and to protest and prevent Ukraine, which he thinks is part of Russia, from becoming closer to the West and gaining closer ties to the European Union and to NATO,” Judson said. “It’s ingrained in Ukrainian history that they have been independent in the past, and they’ve always fought to continue to be independent.” Stern also pointed out that many Russians feel a sense of defeat from the fall of the Soviet Union and wish to restore a former glory to their country. Olson, adding to Stern’s point, explained how 70% of Russians still believe the war in Ukraine is just.

When Rowe directed the panel to U.S. involvement, all panelists expressed a desire to further support Ukraine while also wishing to avoid a direct conflict between the U.S. and Russia, given the threat of Russia’s nuclear arsenal. “There’s not much we can do besides give Ukraine the weapons that we’re giving them. Potentially, in my personal opinion, we could give them more, but obviously that’s not up to me,” Judson said.  

On Monday, April 4 at 5 p.m., CSAD and the CGE will hold a student-led panel in the Community Foundation Theater to further discuss the issue. All students are invited to attend.

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