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Harvard Is Failing Ukrainian Students

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, hundreds gathered in Harvard Yard to express their solidarity with Ukraine.
Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, hundreds gathered in Harvard Yard to express their solidarity with Ukraine. By Julian J. Giordano
By Diana A. Nichvoloda, Contributing Opinion Writer
Diana A. Nichvoloda ’27, a Crimson Editorial comper, lives in Matthews Hall.

Currently, Harvard has no cultural club specifically for Ukrainian undergraduates.

Almost two years have passed since the Russian invasion, and with the war nearly stalemated, the West’s enthusiasm to support Ukraine slowly ebbing, and the conflict in Israel splitting attention and resources from that in Ukraine, the country is desperate for more support. At a time when Ukrainian students are most vulnerable, this lack of organization is alarming.

As a Ukrainian American, one of the biggest reasons I chose Harvard was its Ukrainian Research Institute, a center dedicated to advancing research and teaching on Ukraine. As an outspoken activist for my country back in high school, I was eager to continue that work in college, taking advantage of the wealth of funds and opportunities I imagined were available at Harvard.

Knowing of the successful fundraising campaigns for Ukraine at other schools, including Brown University and Yale University, I joined a group of like-minded students to fundraise for the well-known charity Come Back Alive, which provides arms and equipment for Ukrainian soldiers.

Alas, we soon realized that there were substantial institutional obstacles in the way.

First, without an affinity group for Ukrainian undergraduates, we have struggled to connect with networks of activists and procure funding to support cultural and fundraising initiatives.

Second, we cannot create a new affinity group, because Harvard has put a pause on recognizing new independent student organizations this year in order to “conduct a thorough assessment of the independent student organization environment.” It remains unclear when the normal application process for creating a new club will resume.

This put our activism in a strange limbo. Determined to find other outlets for my advocacy, I contacted the president of the Harvard Ukrainian Student Association, which is a broader organization for all Ukrainian Harvard affiliates across the University’s schools. Unfortunately, judging from the website, which is out-of-date, HUSA is not very active. It doesn’t even hold regular meetings and seems disengaged from undergraduate life.

With the last panel HUSA publicized having happened last year, and no sign of plans for additional events, it is imperative for Harvard to bolster support for Ukraine beyond HUSA.

And yet, the University erects barriers to our efforts at every turn. We cannot set up an information table in the Science Center Plaza or obtain funding because we aren’t an official club. We cannot become an official club due to the hold on recognizing new student organizations. And even if we somehow managed to get our club approved and obtain funding, the best way for us to fundraise would be a personal Venmo code — something that Harvard regulations also discourage.

A university that claims to support Ukraine should not have so many restrictions on people trying to support Ukraine on campus. Harvard’s institutional legitimacy means its undergraduates have the potential to make a real impact with their activism. In over-regulating student organizations, Harvard falls short of its stated ideals.

Concerns like these raise questions about the purpose of universities in the wider world. Is the only role of universities to supply knowledge, or do they have an obligation to actively act on that knowledge and support just causes around the world? I am inclined to think that it is both. When universities boast of their ideals, I believe we should expect them to act on these ideals in the real world.

Fortunately, there are steps Harvard can take to remedy this situation. The first is to lift the hold on recognizing new student organizations and streamline the club creation and funding application process. The second is to expand Ukrainian visibility on campus, by promoting educational opportunities like the annual Temerty Contemporary Ukraine Program Conference, at which experts discuss policymaking and diplomacy in order to promote a deeper understanding of Ukraine in the world.

Despite the obstacles facing student activism, our small but dedicated group of Ukrainian undergraduates on campus have continued to find ways to promote our cause. We have worked with Come Back Alive to find alternative ways to fundraise, reached out to Ukrainian teachers and faculty on campus to help us spread the word, and posted on social media sharing personal stories. But we still have yet to match the successful fundraising events for Ukrainians in need by our peers at Yale and Brown.

It’s a shame that at a University with so many resources, it’s so difficult to get support for a cause that is so clearly in line with its ideals. Harvard has a duty to support its students, especially those whose homelands have been devastated by war.

Diana A. Nichvoloda ’27, a Crimson Editorial comper, lives in Matthews Hall.

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