“An Urgent Message from College Students in Ukraine”

By: Tori Rathkamp ’25

Stop and reflect upon your life as a Hope College student. You’re attending a prestigious institution of higher learning. Life presents challenges, but they’re mostly manageable. You’re excited about getting some R&R (rest and relaxation) over the weekend or maybe you’re anxious about exams. Perhaps you’re nervous about how the four-to-three credit switch will affect you. Whatever the case, in Ukraine, college students who also want to finish their education, graduate, and live successful lives, are caught in a life-and-death struggle. Simple everyday tasks, that we as college students do every day, come with the constant risk of bombardment from air strikes, tanks, artillery, etc.

At the start of the 2023 spring semester, students in the course History of U.S. Foreign Policy participated in a discussion with Dr. Irwin Redlener, Founding Director of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP) and co-founder, along with his wife Karen Redlener, of the Ukraine Children’s Action Project (UCAP) during which Dr. Redlener delivered a simple message from Ukrainian college students to their Hope College peers: “Your Ukrainian peers truly want you to be grateful for what you have because it can be gone in an instant,” said Dr. Redlener. “One day they were just like you, going to class, working hard, living life, and looking forward to the future. Then the war came, and now, instead of focusing upon the future, they just want to survive moment-to-moment”.

The same goes for Ukraine’s high school students. They and their college counterparts envy the United States because of its many opportunities and the durability of its democracy, but the warning of our Ukrainian peers should not be ignored. Life is full of surprises. Those surprises often come when you least expect them. We’ve all lived through the pandemic. We know what it was like to not know when we were going back to school. We saw our loved ones die. Therefore, do not get used to moving comfortably through life. Be aware of the circumstances and the people that could transform life as you know it. Pay attention to what is going on in politics and the world. Be mindful of where you get information from and what sources you repost. As people who’ll be future leaders in faith communities, industry, government, and society, we cannot afford to remain uninformed about the struggles of our peers in Ukraine, in another state, or in our immediate community.

Educate yourself about Ukraine. You can make a difference. Donate money and supplies. Help refugees. Send thank you letters to politicians who are supporting aid to Ukraine. Send letters insisting that politicians not supporting Ukraine change their stance. Educate politicians and your peers about the history of the Ukraine-Russian conflict. Help them understand that Ukraine’s fight for its democracy is just one of many global confrontations between freedom and despotism. Educate peers and leaders about what this conflict means for America’s democratic republic. We the students at Hope College are also part of “We the People,” and we have power. It’s time to exercise that power. One of the greatest threats to democracy, at home and abroad, is indifference. Once indifference (or in Ukraine’s case authoritarian aggression) has wrecked a democracy, the price for its restoration far exceeds the cost of what would have been had you acted now. Hope College students, we can make a positive difference. Learn! Get involved! Act now!


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