The Ukraine conflict and its impacts on members of the Upper Arlington community.
BY SAFIA MALHOTRA ’24
On Feb. 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in a televised address that he had approved a “special military operation” for the “demilitarization and denazification” of Ukraine. Hours later he launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine by land, air and sea, effectively commencing the largest attack by one state against another in Europe since World War II.
The war has since continued, approaching one year on Feb. 24, 2023. More than 8 million people are currently dis placed within Ukraine, and another 7,969,000 refugees (90% of which are women and children) have fled to surrounding countries. Altogether, 27.3 million people need assistance in Ukraine and in 19 surrounding countries.
While the war remains physically limited to the territories of Ukraine and Russia, its global impacts are massive: billions have been affected, including those within the Upper Arlington community, such as sophomore Dan Chrisman, who recently returned from visiting family in Ukraine.
“While I was there I saw rockets fly over, and I could hear shells go off. There’s drones outside at night, helicopters, fighter planes. So it was kind of nerve wracking being in an active war zone,” he said. “Returning home made me realize how lucky I am just to be able to go to school every day, or sleep in a bed, or have food. It was difficult for me to relax and stop worrying about missiles or air raids.”
Chrisman has multiple family members still living in Ukraine, as well as multiple family members who left the country when the war started.
“Most of the women moved west or to Poland. My grandparents just didn’t want to leave, and the men couldn’t leave. Kids were being separated from their fathers and mothers and having to be sent down to the Netherlands [or] Poland,” he said. “But a lot of [my family] just decided they didn’t want to leave. Because that’s their home, that’s where they’ve lived their whole life and they don’t want to leave.”
In order to enter Ukraine, Chrisman had to fly from Columbus to Charlotte, North Carolina, then to Frankfurt, Germany, and to Kraków, Poland. He then took an approximately 20-hour-long bus ride from Kraków to Kyiv, Ukraine, a second bus to Sumy, Ukraine, and finally a train to Trostianets, where he met his family. The journey from Columbus to Trostianets lasted three days.
“It was a learning experience because, you know, there’s no direct flights to Ukraine,” Chrisman said. “At the border, I was taken off the bus and questioned for about 30 minutes by these soldiers. And I thought I wasn’t getting back on the bus. I thought they were going to turn me around and send me back to Poland, because technically all men over 18 in Ukraine are not supposed to leave, even if they’re not even a citizen. So they were wondering why I was coming in.”
Despite these factors, Chrisman felt it was important to visit his family in Ukraine.
“I just thought that this is kind of my last chance to see my family because I think if the Russians come back, they might not be able to push them out again,” he said.
Chrisman is not the only member of the Upper Arlington community impacted by or involved with the Ukraine Crisis.
Social studies teacher Kim Brown teaches a course called “Beyond Tolerance,” which “helps students consider fundamental issues of citizenship, responsibility, and decision-making in a democracy.” Students Chloe Friedman, Hanna Andersson, Abby McDonald, Layla Swartz and Ayva Lasley took this course last year, and, through the course, founded the club “UA for Ukraine.”
This club was especially prevalent during the 2021-2022 school year, wherein they raised nearly $14,000 through fundraisers and donations that was sent to Ukraine via the global non-profit organization Americares.
“We started UA for Ukraine because we wanted to help our friend [who was] a French exchange student. She had friends in Ukraine and she was really worried about them, so we wanted to help her make her friends feel safe,” Andersson said. “We wanted people to know that the world is listening to them. So this way we could not only help our friend, but we could also impact people overseas and make them feel heard.”
UA for Ukraine hosted numerous fundraisers and outreach events in order to spread awareness about the state ofUkraine, as well as raise money to help those struggling in Ukraine. Proceeds from a bake sale, t-shirt sales, drink collaborations with UA Rise and the 2022 Upper Arlington High School talent show constituted a portion of the $14,000 raised by UA for Ukraine.
“One of the main goals was to spread awareness about the issue which connects to our curriculum in Beyond Tolerance, about how you have to stand up to injustice, you can’t just be a bystander,” Friedman said.
One of the major motivations for the creation of UA for Ukraine was to spread awareness within the Upper Arlington community. UA for Ukraine visited the elementary schools to inform them of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and provide them an opportunity to help support those struggling because of the war.
“It was very emotional, the outreach was incredible. I think it was very inspiring, especially at the elementary school level,” Andersson said. “Because we went to the elementary schools and introduced our fundraiser, penny wars, and when we came back and collected their money… it was insane. Wickliffe alone raised over $1000, and it was so cool to see these elementary schoolers making an impact on their community.”
UA for Ukraine was received readily by the Upper Arlington community. They worked with different clubs and classes in UAHS to raise awareness within the high school, and extended their outreach past the high school to the general public of Upper Arlington as well.
For example, the group partnered with an IB Business class to research relief agencies and collaborated with a UAHS art class to design and produce pendant keychains that were sold across the district. They also worked with UA Rise to promote drinks and Ambassadors of Change to create pins in support of Ukraine.
“We underestimate how young people can understand these tough issues, but they have a lot of empathy,” Friedman said. “They really just wanted to help, so they did a lot of incredible work.”