‘This is my frontline’: W&L student fights for justice and visibility for Ukraine

Tania Kozachanska, ’26, partnered with W&L organizations to host “Ukraine Week” and support her home country


Catherine McKean

Students raised over $2,500 in shirt and tote bag sales for a Ukrainian organization that rebuilds residential houses destroyed by Russian aggression.

Emma Malinak, Arts & Life Editor

Feb. 24 will mark the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Tania Kozachanska, ’26, wanted to ensure that as that date approached, she was doing everything she could to help her home country of Ukraine and get the Washington and Lee community involved in the cause.
“I understand that this is my frontline,” Kozachanska said. “I cannot defend my country with weapons; I cannot be a medic; I cannot save lives; but I need to do something. So I decided to fight on the cultural frontline.”
Kozachanska worked with the Student Association for International Learning (SAIL) and Amnesty International to host “Ukraine Week” from Feb. 6 to Feb. 11. A range of programming served to educate the university community about the current state of the war and raise money for Brave to Rebuild, an organization working to restore residential areas that have been destroyed by the Russian occupation.
“Ukraine Week” culminated in a panel on Feb. 11 in which two of Kozachanska’s close friends from Ukraine virtually visited to share how the war has affected them.
President of Amnesty International Maria Luzaran, ’23, said that the panel was an impactful way to end the week because it humanized the events of the war that students may feel disconnected from.
“I think it’s really important to put faces onto the tragedies that we’re seeing from this side of the world,” Luzaran said.

Bringing the voices of rebuilding Ukrainians to campus

Kozachanska hoped that by giving Sasha Myroshnichenko, a paramedic, and Jhenia Pohorila, coordinator of the communications department at Brave to Rebuild, a chance to speak to the Washington and Lee community, she could show how different the lives of Ukrainian and American young adults are because of the war.

Two people sit in chairs in front of a large wall screen, showing several people over Zoom.
Two of Kozachanska’s friends from Ukraine, both working to rebuild and heal Ukrainian communities, shared their experiences via Zoom. (Elena Lee)

Myroshnichenko heard explosions outside of his apartment on Feb. 24, 2022 when Russia first invaded Ukraine. He said the first days and weeks of the conflict felt like one neverending day because no one was sleeping, and everyone was doing whatever they could to support the Ukrainian troops. Since then, Myroshnichenko has been working as a paramedic to help those affected by Russian aggression.
Myroshnichenko said one of the most disturbing parts of the war is that civilians have been confronted with violence just as much as Ukrainian troops have because of Russia’s relentless bombings on residential areas. He thinks that this type of combat reveals Russia’s weakness.
“[Russian troops] are not trying to win this war,” Myroshnichenko said. “They are just trying to show that they are powerful. But no, they’re really weak.”
While Myroshnichenko has been living in the war’s hotspots and saving Ukrainian lives, Pohorila has been supporting her country by helping Ukrainian families reconstruct their homes.
Throughout her time with Brave to Rebuild, she has watched the organization grow from a small group of friends to a team of over 2,000 volunteers that clear debris, conserve structures that are still standing, repair roofs and windows, and help Ukrainains who have lost their homes in any other ways they can.
According to the Brave to Rebuild website, members of the organization have restored over 140 private homes and 130 apartment buildings in the past seven months.
Kozachanska and members of SAIL and Amnesty sold sweatshirts and tote bags in Elrod Commons from Feb. 8 to Feb. 10 to support Brave to Rebuild’s mission. They raised over $2,500 for the organization, Kozachanska said.

“The reason why everything is going so well… is the support of the world”

Pohorila said at the panel that she was thankful for the donations, and that donating money and supplies to the Ukrainian military or nongovernmental organizations like Brave to Rebuild is a great way for Americans to help the cause.
But she acknowledged that one of the most important and easiest ways for Americans to help Ukraine is to share information about the war, either by posting on social media or bringing up the topic with peers and colleagues, so that Ukrainians’ perseverance continues to be recognized.
“Ukrainians can survive anything, which they have been doing for almost a year,” Pohorila said. “The scariest thing is just to be forgotten, just for people to not care. I think that the reason why everything is going so well despite all the awful things that could have happened is the support of the world.”
Professor Anna Brodsky, East European and Russian studies program head, spoke at the panel to provide political and historical context for the current conflict. She predicted that if Russia wins, leaders would form an alliance with China, Iran and North Korea, which could have serious consequences for the United States and other democratic nations.
“If Russia were to win, this would be the green light for every dictator all over the world,” Brodsky said. “It would be a major victory for every anti-democratic force and anti-democratic group.”
But Brodsky, like Pohorila, recognized the strength of the Ukrainian people. She said the country has persisted because it has many important things to fight for.
“It’s about the very basic human needs, very basic human freedom, very basic need to live and survive and preserve elementary human dignity,” she said. “I’m not surprised that Ukrainians continue to fight in the face of such brutal aggression.”

Preserving Ukrainian identity with art

Brodsky helped at another “Ukraine Week” event on Feb. 7. When Kostiantyn Doroshenko, an art critic from Ukraine, gave a presentation titled “Art Under Bombardment,” Brodsky translated his lecture from Russian to English for the audience.
Doroshenko traveled on a bus for 24 hours across war-torn Ukraine, took a train from the Ukrainian-Polish border to Germany and flew from Berlin to the United States to get to the university and speak about how Ukrainian artists are representing the horrors of Russian military aggression.
“That alone makes his presentation heroic,” Brodsky said. “It’s a heroic deed for him to be here, and we should be super grateful.”
As of the beginning of this month, 18 museums, 85 buildings of historical interest, 19 monuments and 12 libraries have been destroyed in Ukraine, according to UNESCO. Doroshenko explained that because of this, Ukrainian art is in demand in Europe, whether it depicts the violence and disillusionment of war or the simple joys of life that Ukrainians are trying to preserve.
One of Doroshenko’s favorite pieces of art produced recently is a wine glass that was glued back together after being shattered by the shock wave of a bomb.
“For the artist, it’s an image of all the Ukrainians today,” Brodsky translated for Doroshenko. “Our life, our understanding of the world, our psyche, everything has to be put together again, collected again, just like the shards of this wine glass.”
Before Doroshenko spoke on Feb. 7, The Marketplace celebrated “Ukraine Week” by serving traditional Ukrainian recipes such as beet soup, chicken kyiv and halushki at lunch. Kozachanska worked with Dining Services to plan the menu, and said she got good feedback from Eastern European students who said the lunch “felt like home.”

A plywood wall has photos and newspaper pages on it.
Kozachanska said the university denied her wall space to display her timeline of the conflict. So, she made her own wall. (Emma Malinak)

An exhibit that documented the timeline of the war was available outside the entrance of Leyburn Library throughout “Ukraine Week.” Kozachanska included three components for every date—photographs, front pages from the New York Times and personal notes from her friends and family in Ukraine—that represented what happened, how other countries found out about it, and how Ukrainians felt about it, respectively.
Kozachanska said displaying the exhibit was an act of activism within itself because no locations on campus agreed to let her showcase the timeline.
“There were no walls available for us on campus, so we literally built our own walls and put up this exhibit,” Kozachanska said.
Local support for Ukraine will not stop with the end of “Ukraine Week.” A local organization, Hosting Ukrainian Families, has organized volunteers and resources to welcome and aid three families of Ukrainian refugees in Lexington.
According to the Hosting Ukrainian Families website, the Odemchuk family arrived in Lexington in August, the Strezhyboroda family arrived in September, and the Tysiachna family arrived in December. Volunteers from Rockbridge County have been helping the families to find housing and employment, learn English and adjust to life in Lexington. Washington and Lee students have chipped in by tutoring the families’ children, who range in age from kindergarten to eighth grade.
Bella Devraj, ’25, has been volunteering with Hosting Ukrainian Families this semester and helping two young boys learn letters, colors and other basic elements of English.
“It’s fun when you find something that they’re excited about or that they’re interested in,” Devraj said. “They’re little boys, just the same as if you were tutoring any other first-grader.”
Like Devraj, Kozanchanska said she wants students to realize that even though the war in Ukraine is far away, everyday people are being affected by it. The conflict will not go away, she said, unless everyone does what they can to support the cause.
“War is still going on,” Kozachanska said. “It’s still there. It’s people’s lives at stake.”