As the Russo-Ukrainian War and destruction of Ukrainian cities continues, two Cornell students, Kateryna Slinchenkova ’22 and Margarita grad, whose last name The Sun is withholding due to fear of retaliation from her home country of Russia, are organizing ongoing efforts to bring aid to Ukraine.
Slinchenkova was born in Dnipro, Ukraine, where she resided until a month before her ninth birthday when she moved to the United States. She would return to her home country each summer to see her family and childhood friends.
During her senior year at Cornell, Slinchenkova was on the Ithaca campus when the war broke out. She remembered not knowing how to react to the news.
“I was very frustrated with people telling me how to feel before things started. And then after things started, I remember not really processing it, because people have been telling me I should panic. And now it’s actually time to panic,” Slinchenkova said. “There was a moment of like, is this even real? Do we even accept this?”
Margarita grew up in Siberia, Russia and completed her undergraduate degree and masters in Moscow before moving to the United States in 2013 to attain her Ph.D. at Cornell. When news broke about the Ukraine attack, Margarita had a hard time processing the reality and severity of the situation.
“Even though people were talking about it in the U.S. and in the news, for me — and for many of my friends — it seemed like something completely impossible,” Margarita said. “Something that doesn’t make any sense and cannot possibly happen, because this is a neighboring country.”
Slinchenkova finally realized the extent of the conflict when a bombing in Kyiv left her family friend was stuck in a metro station for three days. The war was giving Slinchenkova extreme anxiety, and she was constantly checking the news for updates on her hometown.
Slinchenkova’s closest tie in Ukraine is her grandfather, an ICU anaesthesiologist who works in Dnipro’s Sixth City Hospital. At the beginning of the war, her grandfather told her that due to short supplies, patients were either going to be treated without anesthesia or would not be treated at all. They didn’t have saline solution, catheters or the medicine they would normally be prescribing for standard procedures.
“It’s not even an issue of local pharmacies,” Slinchenkova said. “It’s an issue of stocking hospitals, because he was saying that the Red Cross wasn’t doing anything — they were not able to get into contact with someone who was able to deliver supplies directly to them.”
Slinchenkova began sending all of her spare money to her grandfather and soon began the Dnipro Fund to further support her hometown. The Fund sends donations to her grandfather’s hospital, the Zdorove Pokolinya Clinic and to the restoration of an old university building that is being used as a shelter for refugees.
In March, during a American Physical Society meeting in Chicago, Margarita encountered other Russian and Ukrainian scientists who felt inspired by the desire to help and the solidarity expressed at the meeting. They went on to form Scholars for Ukraine, a nonprofit that directs funds and supplies to Ukraine in an effort to provide aid to smaller cities that are often neglected by large aid organizations. Scholars for Ukraine has raised over $25,000 at the time of publication.
Margarita and other members receive pictures and videos from Ukraine of new disasters, torn down buildings or refugees hiding in subways. After assessing these photos, the organization can prioritize their aid towards more imminent needs and risks that arise.
In an attempt to find solidarity and support, both Slinchenkova and Margarita attended a Cornell protest in early March. They met, began discussing their projects and a collaboration between Scholars for Ukraine and the Dnipro Fund was formed.
During the month of October, Scholars for Ukraine dedicated efforts toward fundraising for Dnipro Fund’s two projects.
Dnipro is gaining more and more refugees as many families enter the city looking for safety, while lacking bare necessities, according to Margarita. Scholars for Ukraine is organizing the creation of survival kits for refugees to provide them with basic necessities and helping the Dnipro Fund with the implementation of a heating system in the restored university building.
Both Slinchenkova and Margarita stressed the importance of continued focus and donations for Ukraine, especially as the conflict escalation continues on for over eight months.
“The people in Ukraine, the volunteers, they are incredible. They are real life heroes. Many of them could have left, but many stayed and often use their own resources to keep helping people,” Margarita said. “Supporting and helping them to keep doing what they’re doing is very important.”
According to Slinchenkova, support for Ukrainians can come in many forms.
“One of the things I started doing early on is helping tutor in English, because a lot of youths got displaced to a different country where they didn’t know the language,” Slinchenkova said. “The easiest language to learn is English because a lot of them started in school.”
Slinchenkova believes that aiding in small ways can make a large impact.
When her car broke down, she took her car to Hunt’s Auto Service but told the mechanics that she did not want anything fixed due to financial strains. Slinchenkova confided that her grandfather was in Ukraine and without her knowledge, they fixed her car for free and put up screenshots of her website, allowing all of Slinchenkova’s spare money to go to her grandfather and spreading awareness of the Dnipro Fund.
“One thing the Cornell community can do is just staying involved,” Slinchenkova said. “Even if people can’t donate, just continuing to be active. There are a lot of people who can give funds, but there are not a lot of people who have the time, commitment and emotional stability to stay active.”