Education Amidst War: UD hosts Ukrainian refugees

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Anastasiia Merkulova and her family watched as their homeland descended into war. Foreseeing the conflict, Anna Bebko fled Ukraine to stay with relatives in the United States. The University of Dallas’ newest arrivals are seeking refuge and an education. 

“Until the very end, we couldn’t believe that it would happen. When the flights started being canceled from Ukraine and to Ukraine, there was a warning sign that something is going on, something awful,” Merkulova said.  

Merkulova, a senior psychology major, comes to Dallas from Ukraine. Before the war, she attended the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.

“When the war started, I was in my final year of university, so I was a senior and one semester was left to get my bachelor’s degree in social work,” Merkuolva said. 

Merkulova and her family fled Kyiv before Russia invaded Ukraine. Merkulova says her family watched both Ukrainian and Russian news diligently and foresaw the war prompting them to leave, especially by interpreting Russian propaganda.

Merkulova explained, “They have their propaganda, but in that propaganda, you can look at this and have a kind of prediction of what they’re going to do next.” 

As war broke out, schools in and around Kyiv began to close. 

“Our studies stopped, and I thought that it would be like for a month or two but it didn’t finish, and when one month passed, I thought that I really have to finish my education,” Merkulova said. 

Merkulova wrote to countless universities and prayed for guidance as well. “So what I did, I prayed. Maybe it sounds funny, but I prayed,” she said. 

The only response Merkulova received was from UD. 

“I wrote to 100 universities, and then I told God that, okay, the university from which I’ll get the answer, it will be his will and there I will go, because I didn’t know whether it is possible that I will be accepted to the university,” she said. 

Despite facing several challenges, Merkulova persevered to enter the U.S. “There were many difficulties,” she said. Merkulova had to obtain a student visa, records of COVID-19 vaccination, insurance, and plane tickets. “Still to the very end, I didn’t know whether I’ll be able to cross the border to the U.S,” she continued.  

As far as classes at UD, Merkulova has enjoyed the many reading assignments and the different structure of classes overall. 

In Ukraine, she said, “You have your textbook, but we had to learn from A to Z all that was written there, and here, professors ask us for more critical thinking. They demand more of our own opinions about the material we’re looking through.

Anna Bebko, a native of Kyiv, was entering her third year of studying marketing at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv when the war broke out, although she is starting at UD as a freshman. Since her family also foresaw the start of the war, largely by watching the important politicians and businessmen with Russian connections who were fleeing the country, Bebko left Ukraine on Feb. 21. 

“I found out about UD from a family friend and then I went to the website to find more information, and then I came here to see the campus,” Bebko said. 

Apart from coming to UD to study business, Bebko left Ukraine to stay with relatives in the area. 

“I was looking for the college that is near to my aunt’s house since it’s hard to go somewhere by myself and UD is quite near to my family’s house,” she said.

Like Merkulova, Bebko also finds the different class structure from what she is used to enjoyable. “I like the way professors teach and show the information, that’s absolutely different from the way I learned in Ukraine,” she said. 

Overall, Bebko stated that her experience at UD has been a good one.

“I really like UD, it’s a new experience to me, and I like the atmosphere here. Everyone is super, super friendly.” She continued, “I’m grateful that I’ve received such an opportunity to pursue my higher education since it was kind of lost.”

Claire Venegas, vice president for marketing and communications, commented on UD’s efforts in an email. 

“As soon as we learned of Ukrainian college students looking to continue their studies in the U.S., we worked to find a way to welcome them here. Ultimately, we have been able to provide tuition and room and board at no cost to them or their families. We are extremely grateful for the generosity of several benefactors [who] have stepped forward to offer charitable gifts in support of their education here at UD.”

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