Foreign student shares unique experience as Ukraine native, how she deals with distance


Photo by Cheyenne Wuthrich

Senior Iryna Hotsuliak

Iryna Hotsuliak, Feature Spread Editor

The last hug I received from my mom and dad happened to be 597 days ago. The war back home has never let me return. The war in Ukraine.
It displaced me in many more means than simply physically. After being trapped with an option to return their only child home after a long exchange year or keep her a safe distance from tragic events happening in their home country, my family made a heart-breaking decision to follow the second alternative and resume our separation for an unspecified period of time.
With the displacement, I rapidly discovered the inside well of responsibility, management and patience. The “healing” hug from my mom is not available anymore and my dad cannot wipe tears off my face. You obtain realization of either you pull out yourself from the constant depression or you lose your place in the sun and your inner fire fades away.
My destiny brought some awesome people into my life such as my second family who hosted me on my exchange year, their friends and my Ukrainian friend who all live here and who always have my back. With experiencing such hardship, I began seeing true beauty in little things and not allowing myself to complain about anything.
Being a displaced student due to a war also includes watching news about a bombed orphanage with kids inside and hiding any signs of sorrow afterwards. In order to survive on the other hemisphere from my home, every morning I leave grief “behind the scenes” as deep sadness burdens and withdraws energy I should put into my daily work.
The guilt occupies a huge chunk of my day every single day. The war has taken away dreams and goals from so many Ukrainian kids and lives from others. I question why I am better to receive an opportunity to escape the experience of hiding in bomb shelters from missiles during classes followed by unbearable air sirens.
I have a privilege of being one of a few percentage of students who are able to continue their education in safe conditions. But on the contrary, it makes my burden and blame grow for wanting to get distracted, laughing with other students during breaks, enjoying fresh food during breakfast and worrying about life aspects that do not matter.
Being a displaced student means I am seen as a person who most people feel sorry for. I genuinely appreciate when people ask me about my family’s state and events happening back home. I gladly answer their questions in order to spread the awareness of the current genocide of my countrymen performed by Russians and try to teach people the truly important things in life.
However, such curiosity creates an endless circle of plunging headlong into my fears and nightmares.

After a while, I realized the only feeling my surrounding classmates directs toward me is sympathy and as an individual, I get lost in it.

— Iryna Hotsuliak

So now, besides fighting grief, I am also fighting a stigma of being associated with the war.
The majority would consider a displaced student living a normal life as he or she has escaped the danger. However, I am experiencing more anxiety and fear for my family and the other close people to me than I would if I were with them in the center of danger. Every single morning starts not with a cup of coffee but with checking the current situation in my region and praying to receive a message from my mom.
Furthermore, I am grieving for every completely destroyed city, all the souls who gave away their lives and my country which is a birth place of heroes. I have a very big family of 43 million people. However, I must continue going forward in the name of those who lost everything due to the bloody war and cherish what they could not.