Friday, April 12, 2024

War affects students, mental health

By Olivia Bousquet 

On February 24, Russian troops invaded Ukraine. According to the New York Times, Russia’s active military size is eight times larger than Ukraine’s — 900,000 members compared to 170,000. Ukraine left the Soviet Union in 1991 and declared independence. The small country, which is slightly smaller than Texas, borders Russia. Russian troops are gaining ground along the Russian and Belarusian borders, pushing toward the Capitol, Kyiv.

While the United States refuses to get the military involved and citizens here are affected by increased gasoline prices instead of bombings, some students at SUNY Plattsburgh are worried about their friends and families near the war. 

Anna Khojashvilli, an international student from Georgia, which borders Russia and the Black Sea, noticed the parallels from the invasion of Ukraine to the invasion of her home country. Her mother is a refugee, whose city was annexed by Russia in 2008. Her mother, father, brother and grandmother are currently living in Georgia, which is under 20% Russian occupation, and could become a target after Ukraine. 

“The least I can do is just spread awareness, so the same thing doesn’t happen,” Khojashvilli said. “Because in Georgia, that cost us a lot of territory and a lot of people and a lot of lives. I just don’t want to see that repeat for Ukraine. We’ve always been friends with Ukraine. I have friends in Ukraine, who are currently suffering from all this.”

Khojashvilli missed classes since the start of the invasion. She attempted to go once, but had a panic attack during it. She is checking her phone constantly on updates of the war and messages from friends and family. While she tries to spread awareness through Instagram posts and fliers, she feels “alienated” and “exhausted” from SUNY Plattsburgh’s environment. 

“It’s so much to go out of that space because I’m only digitally present in those spaces [talking with friends and loved ones directly affected by the war], and when I go out of there and go to class and see people talking about bullshit like ‘Oh my god, Euphoria season two finale,’” Khojashvilli said. “How are you so out of touch with this? This is affecting every single part of my life right now.”

She said people can be “insensitive” to the war in Ukraine. Russian President Vladamir Putin posted on Instagram March 2 a picture with French President Emmanuel Macron. One of the most liked comments posted by @claudiarain_ read, “vladdy daddy this isn’t like you.” Khojashvilli wants people to realize how insensitive it is to joke about an issue affecting so many people, and because of this, it’s been “really hard to communicate this with anyone in here.”

Khojashvilli wished the school would do more in support of Ukraine. She mentioned friends on other campuses that participated in solidarity walks and donation drives for the people of Ukraine. 

On the day of the invasion at 2:48 p.m., President Alexander Enyedi sent an email out to students, saying that the campus’ thoughts are with Ukraine. “Consistent with our core values, SUNY Plattsburgh will always prioritize and enforce the fundamental human and civil rights of all on our campus,” the email stated. It also mentioned contacting counseling services or the Global Education Office (GEO) for support. 

Director of GEO Jacqueline Girard Vogl said the staff in GEO engage one-on-one with international students during crisis situations, and they have reached out to current Russian students to see how the situation has affected them.

“We do not have any international students from Ukraine at this time, but I and other members of my staff have been in touch with colleagues and former students in and from Ukraine. Their fear and disbelief about the current situation are heartbreaking,” Vogl said. 

This past week, March 7 at 4:36 p.m., students received another email from Enyedi regarding SUNY Plattsburgh standing in solidarity with Ukraine. The email stated that for the month of March Hawkins Hall would be illuminated in blue and yellow “to represent the colors of the Ukrainian flag and serve as a continual reminder of the humanitarian crisis being created by the unprovoked attack by Russia.” Enyedi encouraged the campus community to visit the lights and to remember those suffering.

Another student affected by the war in Ukraine is Maria Barinova, a graduate student studying clinical mental health counseling. She was born in Ukraine, but is ethnically Russian and Jewish. She has lived in the United States since she was 2 years old, but has family in Russia and Ukraine. 

Her family in Odessa, Ukraine, has experienced some bombings outside of the city, but she expects more since Odessa is the third largest city in Ukraine and borders the Black Sea. Some of her family were able to flee the country, but men ages 18 to 60 are not allowed to leave.

“When I spoke to them, they had an air siren,” Barinova said. An air siren is used to inform people of potential bombs that may go off. “But they didn’t go down into the bunker, I think, but they were a little worried. Right now, it’s really just like a waiting game. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but they’re not going to leave.”

Barinova has kept in contact with her family. As a CD in Harrington Hall, her CAs have been supportive and got her a care package. She mainly uses her studies to stay “distracted” right now.

Another student worried about the effects of the war is Riley Clune, a freshman majoring in English writing arts. Her maternal grandparents immigrated from Austria. She grew up in a neighborhood with a large Eastern European immigrant population. One of her friends lives in Kyiv, Ukraine, and Clune texts her every morning at 5:30 to check in. 

“I didn’t fully process it until a couple days later. That’s when I had to email my professors. But it’s something that I’m constantly thinking about. It eats me out from the inside,” Clune said about the emotional impact of the war. “And it’s something we don’t talk about in my classes — we don’t. It feels like it’s not being acknowledged at all, anywhere except for, every once in a while I’ll pass a door that has a Ukrainian flag printed out on it.”

For students or faculty looking for more resources, Khojashvilli implores individuals to visit for information on how to donate, read news sources, sign petitions and more to aid Ukrainians. 

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