A Retrospect on a Year of Grief, Effort and Resilience at JCU since the first Russian Airstrikes on Kyiv, Ukraine 

The Slavic Cultural Club tells a story of community support and how it stands stronger twelve months later.


By Kathryn Williams / News Reporter

Most interviews conducted in Fall 2022 

Clubs Fair, Spring 2023. Club President Arina-Mariia Polishchuck (left) with alumna Yuliia Antonova. Photo courtesy of Slavic Cultural Club.

At the time of the first airstrikes on Ukraine’s capital on Feb. 24 of 2022, alumna Yuliia Antonova, from Kyiv, had just started her last semester of Art History studies at JCU. 

Antonova said she felt “helpless” at that time, in a “severe emotional distress.” Her bank in Ukraine stopped operations, which prevented her from accessing her accounts. Most Russian and Ukrainian banks ceased to function, which prevented anyone from obtaining money regardless of their location.   

Her family decided to stay in Kyiv and had no intentions to leave, she said. 

“We have this sentiment that we have to [stay], and hope is what keeps people,” Antonova said. “We genuinely love it here, and everyone hopes the war will end soon, and Ukraine will gain all the territories back.” 

The Slavic Cultural Club at JCU had been formed just weeks before Russia’s President, Vladimir V. Putin ordered the invasion on Kyiv. The club quickly sprang into action with the support from JCU’s Office of Community Service and STAND club, organizing donation drives of canned and nonperishable foods as well as clothing to Rome and Ukraine.   

Antonova, who had co-founded the club and served as Secretary, said the Slavic Cultural Club and JCU Administration provided aid to Ukrainian and Russian students whose families remained in Ukraine. The club also hosted a session to provide emotional support for students affected, following the announcement of airstrikes in Kyiv. 

JCU alumna, Daria Kozlova, was also in her senior year at JCU and about to graduate in Political and Social Sciences. As the club’s president at the time, she took donations to the Poland-Ukraine border. Kozlova traveled with the donations collected from campus with the help from JCU’s Office of Community Service. Other donations were also distributed to the Office of Community Service’s partner charities including Croce Rossa, Caritas, Italiana, Agenzia Scalabriniana, and INTERSOS. 

Both Antonova and the current club’s president, Arina-Mariia Polishchuck, said they received residential accommodation through the Housing Department at JCU. 

“At JCU, we are being mindful, checking up with students, and making ourselves available for students in need,” said JCU’s Dean of Students, Carla Wiegers. 

Dean Wiegers said that students in any “extenuating circumstances” could reach out to the Financial Aid Office for support. Assessing how students qualify for aid is a “case-by-case basis,” she said. Students were also offered free meal plans and English translators to accompany students for Italian immigration and banking appointments, from the Housing Office and Student Services.  

The Office of Health and Wellbeing also provided counseling services. With five on-site counselors located in the Gianicolo Residence Hall, Dean Wiegers encouraged students to reach out through email at health@johncabot.edu to set up an appointment. This office also can assist students in connecting with external resources from JCU when necessary.

After a year of war casualties, as of March 12, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) verified 8,231 civilian deaths and 13,734 civilians injured in Ukraine. However, the OHCHR estimates these figures are much higher. 

  • The approximate number of  Ukrainian soldiers who have died or have been wounded reaches 100,000, while the number for Russian troops dead or wounded is close to 200,000.  
  • Both Russia and Ukraine have declined to report internal figures regarding death tolls. Reports vary on how many soldiers are imprisoned in both Russia and Ukraine, with many Russian soldiers captured upon the retreat of Kherson. 

“Russia’s military tactics are totally random,” says Federigo Argentieri, Director of JCU’s Guarini Institute of Public Affairs and Adjunct Associate Professor of Political Science. “There is no other reason except to spread fear to the Ukranian people, which is impossible.” 

As a scholar of Eastern European Studies, Professor Argentieri along with other scholars teaching Political Science and International Relations at JCU— Professor Silvia Scarpa, Professor Michael D. Driessen, and Professor Lyal Sunga—have presented talks, panels and interviews on and off campus about the conflict, including discussions with the Slavic Culture Club. 

According to Professor Argentieri, Putin’s claim of Ukraine statehood is due to Russia’s understanding of Ukraine as part of the “internal empire” of Russia rather than recognizing it as a sovereign nation.   

“Russia still believes in a right to claim territory belonging to them under imperialist times,” Argentieri says. It is a “one-man system” that is “very difficult” for most to “gain power.”  

While the Russian government claims to be a democracy, it is a “full dictatorship,” with an “authoritarian model” for electoral practices, and with a “lack of freedom of press” with its major media channels being state-run, says Argentieri. 

Ukraine is undergoing a “long-term process” to enter NATO, which demonstrates Ukraine’s “total resilience” to Russia’s attempted annexation.  

Tracking the war by BBC World News Live Tracker

Data collected after a year of conflict from February 2022 to March 2023 estimates the following: 

  • To date, the United Nations reports about 8 million Ukrainians in refugee status worldwide, the largest movement of refugees since World War II. 
  • Five million Ukrainians have returned to Ukraine despite the ongoing war, 6 million people are internally displaced within the country, and 13 million residents remain uprooted from their homes, according to UNHCR records. 
  • Within the EU, Italy has the second largest Ukrainian-born population outside of Ukraine after Poland, with more than 100,000 Ukrainians refugees after the war began, according to the European Commission

According to the European Commission and ISTAT data on Ukranian diaspora in Italy Rome has one of the largest Ukrainian populations in Italy, with over 30,000 residents out of 170,646 residents in Italy, according to an EU report and ISTAT. 

The number of Ukranian students studying abroad worldwide as of August 2022 was 641,000, according to Ukraine’s Education and Science Minister Serhiy Shkarlet. Moreover, Ukraine hosted more than 70,000 international students at the start of the war, with some left stranded in Ukraine, its borders, and many evacuated. Efforts assist in the displacements of Ukranian academics at U.S. institutions and worldwide

Ukrainian and Russian students at JCU like Antonova said it has been “extremely difficult” to travel out of Rome last December, because most flights remained suspended from Italy to Ukraine and Russia.  

JCU students who wish to provide aid can be put in touch with the Ukrainian community in Rome through the Slavic Cultural Club.  JCU’s partner charities, like Croce Rossa Italiana and INTERSOS continues to host community service events such as English language lessons for the Ukrainian population within Rome. Students can also reach out to a multitude of Roman Catholic Churches for general volunteer work. 

Before graduating from JCU, both Antonova and Kozlova found “important” to have formed such an organization as the Slavic Cultural Club to represent the diverse population within the JCU community. The club was formed after months of planning and of student collaboration along with JCU Clubs and Organizations.

Antonova said that cultural appreciation of Slavic and Eurasian life is necessary at JCU, especially because of the university’s diverse population with a student body of over 70 countries. 

“We want to facilitate a safe space for students to engage with their culture and encourage those who are interested to learn about different cultures,” said Antonova. 

First known as the Slavic Cultural Alliance, the Slavic Cultural Club changed its name to welcome Eurasian students or any member from the JCU community without it implying an  “exclusivity” for Slavic Students only, according to Kozlova. 

“Our previous name gave students the impression that only Slavic Students could join,” said Nino Malakmadze, the club’s Social Media Coordinator during Fall 2022. “We decided to change it into Slavic Cultural Club, so everyone interested in the culture can join and celebrate together.” 

This spring, Arina-Mariia Polishchuck, became president of the Slavic Cultural Club this semester. She is sophomore double majoring in Marketing and Communications. 

Polishchuck says it is important to introduce and celebrate the Slavic culture to JCU’s community. 

The club’s main events this year will be centered around social gatherings such as traditional dinners with Eastern European foods and movie screenings. 

The club hosts various events for students to learn about Slavic and Eurasian cultures as well as provide humanitarian aid for the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. Several events include donation drives as well as screenings of popular Slavic media productions. 

On Feb. 22, nearly a year after the war began, the club hosted the traditional Fat Thursday, a popular carnival event among Slavic countries like Ukraine and Poland, where people dine on traditional foods such as Ukrainian pancakes or Polish donuts to also celebrate the end of winter.  

Photo courtesy of Slavic Cultural Club, 2023. 

Polishchuck said students were “intrigued” by the variety of cuisines, and found it a “unique experience.” 

The Slavic Cultural Club invites students to participate in future events and humanitarian efforts, as well as cultural appreciation and exchange as form of education that serves as the foundation of the club’s mission for the JCU community.  

All students are invited to participate in any event announced at Instagram @jcu.slavicculturalclub. Contact the club at slavicstudentalliance@johncabot.edu

Maps: Tracking the Russian Invasion of Ukraine by The New York Times