Drake University is home to a diverse group of students, faculty, staff and alumni, including Ukrainians. The Times-Delphic spoke with two stand-out Bulldogs: Drake professor Vira Babenko who currently teaches mathematics and Drake alum Amir Busnov, who serves as a monitoring officer for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and is working in Ukraine to prevent and monitor conflict.
Q: What is it like to be Ukrainian in this present moment?
Busnov: “It’s a bit bittersweet. If you’re male and you went in to fight, it’s like risking getting killed every day, but at the same time, this is probably one of the proudest moments of the nation. They managed to stop [Putin], which is an extraordinary feat. I think mostly being extremely proud in what’s going on and starting from the President [Zelenskyy] to the armed forces and everybody else who’s standing up to the second biggest military that exists right now.”
Babenko: “I’m very proud of my country and how they responded to the crisis there. You know how people are united and how everybody is fighting for their freedom, fighting for their families to have a future. It is very scary as well, especially being far away from family and far away from friends that are there and kind of feeling helpless and not be able to help them in a substantial way.
“There are so many stories about family members that die in a bomb shelter, or for example, on the way to our interview, I called my aunt in Kiev, and they were upstairs in their apartment, but while they were talking, they had the air alert. So they had to go down to the bomb shelter.”
Q: What is your perspective on the conflict?
Busnov: “It’s the typical aggression of the hegemonic country who believes it’s entitled to run other countries, other people’s lives. In some ways, it seems like Putin never woke up from the Cold War, that he’s still stuck there, you know, when they had their little satellite [countries] and they had to do everything the Soviet Union or Russia said.
“[Putin] firmly believes that literally every single country on the border of Russia must submit and basically give up its entire sovereignty to Russia. Other than Ukraine, they’re very small and economically very weak countries, so more or less everybody did submit.”
Babenko: “Everybody heard the speeches that the Russian president made, and I just want to emphasize how he tried to diminish the history of Ukraine, and it’s not acceptable. Kiev is much older than Moscow. Kiev was there long before the Russian Federation. I have a friend who listened to the speech and was like, “Okay, tell me what was the lie and what was the truth?” He was saying that it couldn’t all be a lie, right?
“But it was … I hope the whole world sees now how we are fighting for our freedom. It’s the right to be independent, not just the freedom, but the right to be an independent country and the right to choose our own president and choose our own way, whether to integrate to the Europe or to stay with the Soviet Union allies. It should be the choice of every country, every independent country. We don’t want to be pulled on. We don’t want to be saved from anything like [Putin] claims. He’s not saving anyone right now.”
Q: How much do you attribute this to the leadership or the resistance to leadership of Zelensky? Did people ever think that his leadership would be tested as much as it has been?
Busnov: “Probably not. I mean, I knew it was going to be tested, but I thought it was going to be diplomatic pressure from Russia. Like squeezing him, you know, make fun of him. I’ve made fun of him a little bit too in the beginning because of his background… Zelenskyy is probably the best for the job that could possibly happen to be there at the time. Nobody expected it. I don’t think even him, in the first couple days.”
Q: What can the average Drake student, faculty, staff or alum do to make a positive difference in the conflict?
Babenko: “There are so many levels that people can help right now. If you can find some trusted resources or various humanitarian organizations, donations [can be sent to] addresses where people can send the physical packages to help refugees and to help people in Ukraine. That would be something that every person can do, to not just talk about it, but also do something meaningful to help and to support Ukraine standing up to this invasion.
Babenko provided resources for those interested in taking action to help Ukraine.
Resources from Professor Babenko:
- Sign this petition to #CloseTheSky over Ukraine.
- Call or email your representatives to ask for stronger and sooner sanctions.
- If anyone would want to donate, here are some checked resources:
“Come Back Alive” project to support the Ukrainian Army