Seven weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian forces to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russian bombs, missiles and soldiers continue to attack the country. As the conflict escalates, Emory University students and faculty follow the war closely. However, many Emory community members have connections to Ukraine and Russia, leaving them concerned for their friends, family and homeland.

Personal connections 

Professor of Russian Literature Elena Glazov-Corrigan was born in Moscow. Following Putin’s 2014 invasion and later annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, Glazov-Corrigan began visiting Ukraine frequently instead of Russia due to Russia’s “repressive atmosphere.” 

“I did not respect the mood inside the country, evident in my circle of former acquaintances who believed that the invasion was something to overlook and all in the end would be okay,” Glazov-Corrigan said. 

In Ukraine, she developed many close friendships and found a “truly inspiring community” through her involvement with a publishing house in Kyiv. 

Glazov-Corrigan views Russia’s current Ukrainian invasion as “a national grief.”

“I’m stunned and I’m grieving,” Glazov-Corrigan said. “The invasion itself was a crime and the way it has been handled is a crime.”

Glazov-Corrigan also expressed solidarity with Russian protestors, whose decision to speak out leaves them in danger. 

Emory graduate student and Ukrainian citizen Anastasiia Strakhova (22G), said that her mother escaped Ukraine following the invasion. Strakhova said that her mother initially “didn’t believe that Putin [was] going to attack civilians.” 

Once this fear was realized, Strakhova’s mother sheltered in place, where she would “hear explosions and see missiles” from her window. Strakhova then urged her mother to take the train to Lviv, Ukraine. After difficulty reaching the train station and securing a legitimate train ride due to phony train tickets and miles of abandoned cars blocking roadways, her mother reached Lviv, crossed the Polish border and flew to Frankfurt, Germany to meet Strakhova. 

Assistant Professor of Finance Tetyana Balyuk also has family who were forced to evacuate. At the start of the war, her parents, sister and other relatives were still living in Ukraine, but many had to leave their homes for safer parts of the country. 

Balyuk moved from Ukraine to Canada in 2012 to obtain a Ph.D. in finance from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. She has lived in Atlanta since Emory hired her in 2017.

“Due to the time difference between the U.S. and Ukraine, I fear to wake up in the morning and realize that I missed something important — a new threat or a turning point in the war,” Balyuk said. 

It would be less stressful for me if my parents and sister came to me, but they chose not to,” Balyuk said. “They want to be with their people during these horrible times and help in whatever way they can.”

Balyuk also highlighted Ukraine’s changing political scene accompanying the start of the war, noting that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has become “a symbol of Ukrainian resilience.”

“We saw disagreements between political opponents in Ukraine, as in any democracy, in the past, but [now] they all stand side-by-side in the face of Russian military aggression,” Balyuk said. “Ukraine’s courage and strength is truly in its people.”

Ana Tsulaia (24C) is from the country of Georgia, 20% of which is occupied by Russia. Tsulaia was only six years old when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, but she “vividly remembers the terror and anxiety of fleeing the bombs.”

“Since that first invasion, the fear of Putin has been an integral part of my life, and the invasion in Ukraine is my worst fears coming true,” Tsulaia said. 

Tsulaia noted several overlaps between the two invasions. 

“When Putin invaded Georgia, he called his invasion of another sovereign nation a ‘peace enforcement operation,’ and he’s repeating the same narrative in order to justify his actions in Ukraine today by saying that his offensive aimed to save Ukrainian people from the ‘Nazi government,’” Tsulaia said. “It’s absolutely absurd given that Zelenskyy is Jewish.”

(Anusha Kurapati/Staff Illustrator)

University response

On Feb. 25, Emory announced that the University “stands in solidarity with Ukraine” and offered Emory’s campus resources, including mental health and religious support and Student Intervention Services to students who were struggling.

Tsulaia said this response is “the bare minimum,” pointing to the challenges, particularly long waits for counseling appointments, that students allegedly face when utilizing the University’s mental health services. 

She added that she struggled with the Emory community’s lack of general support. Following the invasion, her friends at other schools in the United States and Europe attended peace rallies organized by their universities. At Emory, she was left “trying to explain the most basic facts and explain the importance, severity of these events” to her friends and professors.

None of her professors mentioned the invasion in class until she reached out to them. When she asked her professors to offer flexibility to students coping with the war, Tsulaia said that only one instructor offered extensions. The others either ignored her request or offered Emory’s psychological services to students “going through hard times” without mentioning the war. 

“Most of us who are deeply affected by this war at Emory are just left with our friends and family at home for support,” Tsulaia said.

However, some professors have made a concerted effort to discuss the war within their classes.

As she continues to teach Russian literature and culture during the war, Glazov-Corrigan emphasized the importance of highlighting “noble voices” within her classes.

“The best writers are the writers who spoke against the arrests and the repressions,” Glazov-Corrigan said. “We don’t teach triumphant practice. Rather, we teach Russian history with a great criticism of Putin’s regime.”

Balyuk echoed the importance of advocacy within academia during Russia’s invasion.

“Emory has a unique opportunity to become a leader among U.S. universities in helping the Ukrainian people who have suffered from the Russian aggression,” Balyuk said.

Foreign responses

The U.S. Department of State declared the country as “United with Ukraine” in March, and the government has worked toward this promise in numerous ways. President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act on March 15 to provide Ukraine with an additional $13.6 billion in military, humanitarian and economic assistance. On March 24, the Biden administration announced the United States would accept up to 100,000 war refugees.

However, Tsulaia said that support from the West is “coming far too late.” She pointed to the lack of aid offered by the United States during the 2014 falsified referendum in Crimea as evidence, arguing that the United States and the European Union (EU) “felt no threat” and saw the event as “just another small geopolitical conflict.” 

“Now, of course, they are afraid of Putin starting World War III,” Tsulaia said. “I like to see the West support Ukraine, but I also feel like they are just trying to save themselves.”

Balyuk also views the response from the United States and EU to be “slow and insufficient.” She criticized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for “not having the guts to close the Ukrainian sky,” which allows for more air attacks, and Europe continuing to purchase Russian energy, which is “essentially funding the war.” She added that Asian countries reluctant to criticize Russia are “silent accomplices.”

Individual citizens have also taken it upon themselves to help Ukrainians. Adam Meller (22C) has family in Poland who are helping renovate an old building to serve as an orphanage for disabled Ukrainian children. They’re also fundraising for heating, beds and a kitchen. Meller advocated for this fundraiser at Emory and said that the donations have helped tremendously. 

Meller says that the United States should “open up to more refugees,” due to the sheer amount of Ukrainian displacement.

“The last thing people should be worrying about is having a place to go,” Meller said.

International implications

The Russo-Ukrainian war is the largest European refugee conflict since World War II, leaving more than 4.6 million refugees fleeing Ukraine and upward of “tens of thousands”of people dead, according to an April 11 speech by Zelenskyy.

Director of the Emory University International Law Clinic Laurie Blank said calling the war a “tragedy” is inaccurate, as it was preventable.

“This was deliberate and avoidable aggression by Russia,” Blank said. “Russia is brazenly violating international law left and right and stripping every concept of basic morality and humanity that we have.”

Blank also emphasized that this is one of many recent humanitarian atrocities, noting the ongoing wars in Syria, Yemen and Ethiopia. However, the Ukrainian invasion’s danger to the United States and its allies is “more blatant” and resembles a revival of the Cold War perception of the Soviet Union as “the big, bad enemy.” 

“[The invasion] is a wakeup call that people dying is horrific wherever it happens, and it shouldn’t require that it happens in a particular area of the world for us to get this focus,” Blank said.

Echoing Blank’s sentiments, Mikhail Epstein, a Samuel Candler Dobbs professor of cultural theory and Russian literature, described the war as a form of “spiritual suicide” because of the unprovoked and violent nature of the invasion. Epstein believes the only motivation behind this attack — which he described as a “strong trial for the fate of humanity” — was to “impose destruction and suffering.”

The war also has financial impacts. Senior Lecturer of Finance Raymond Hill explained that Russia’s exports are about two-thirds energy. Russia and Ukraine are also both large wheat producers. 

However, the United States will be “relatively immune” to the effects of the war because it is not dependent on Russian resources to the same extent as Europe. The rest of the world will likely see increased food prices, Hill added. 

At current prices, the United States can produce more oil to put on the world market, driving down oil and gasoline prices to help consumers across the United States, Hill said. He does not see a quick solution for a non-Russian alternative to natural gas in Europe.

He also noted that private companies’ sanctions will impact the everyday lives of the Russian people as they’re unable to buy certain products. Currently, nearly 330 companies have withdrawn from Russia, including Apple and Amazon.

Associate Professor of Political Science Hubert Tworzecki described the sanctions as a “form of economic warfare,” and as they hinder Russia’s warfighting capability. Its sanctions will also reduce the chances of a stalemate between the nations, Tworzecki explained, which is exacerbated by the “catastrophic losses of material and personnel” that Russia has suffered thus far. 

“As long as the sanctions regime holds up, it will be very difficult for Russia to maintain this war  for a long period of time,” Tworzecki said. “Russia’s economy simply will not be able to survive without everything that it depends on.”