Ukrainian students overseas fret about relatives, the future

Mar 27, 2022, 4:00 PM | Updated: Mar 28, 2022, 8:01 am

Students Sophia Pavlenko, left, of Russia, and Masha Novikova, of Ukraine, prepare blini, the Easte...

Students Sophia Pavlenko, left, of Russia, and Masha Novikova, of Ukraine, prepare blini, the Eastern European-style crepes, to sell to fellow students in a dorm at the United World College, Sunday, March 12, 2022, in Montezuma, N.M. At the boarding school in the Rocky Mountains, a group of Eastern European teenagers made crepes to raise money for the millions of people whose lives have been uprooted by Russia’s war on Ukraine. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

(AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

MONTEZUMA, N.M. (AP) — At a boarding school in the Rocky Mountains, a group of Eastern European teenagers made crepes to raise money for the millions of people whose lives have been uprooted by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The students, studying at a pine-dotted campus in northern New Mexico, worry from a world away about their relatives in the war-torn region.

Masha Novikova, a 19-year-old student from central Ukraine, spent the night before on the phone with NGOs trying to get her mother and three younger siblings to Germany, and arguing with her mother about which would be more dangerous: staying put or hitting the road.

Novikova said she was dealing with a lot of tasks “teenagers do not usually face,” as she grapples with the reality that her family’s home might not exist in the way it once did.

“It ruins you from the inside,” she said.

At the United World College campus, teenagers from 95 countries study as part of a network of schools dedicated to fostering understanding between cultures. The Russian-speaking students, including some from overseas as well as the sons and daughters of immigrants, have been united in horror over the invasion of Ukraine.

On a recent Saturday, a half-dozen of them gathered in a dormitory kitchen to make blini — the Eastern European-style crepes — to sell to fellow students.

“It’s so hard to focus on (school) with exams approaching. We’re still high school students. We’re still trying to live our lives and we have a bunch of high school level issues and suddenly, like, war intervenes,” said Alexandra Maria Gomberg Shkolnikova, 18, of Mexico City, whose family is from Russia and Ukraine.

United World College officials are exploring options for students from Russia and Ukraine to stay on campus or with alumni families if it’s not safe to travel after graduation, said Victoria Mora, president of UWC in the U.S.

Students at the school are selected in part on their interest in world affairs, desire to share their cultures and empathy for others. UWC operates 18 schools across four continents, including the one in the U.S. Novikova learned about the program while on a volunteer trip in Irpin, Ukraine, where she met a student from the United World College of India.

The morning after her night on the phone, Novikova’s eyes were heavy as she walked to the dorm from a cafeteria building known as “the castle” — once a Gilded Age hotel. Along the way she met one of her closest friends, a student from Russia.

The Russian student declined to be interviewed, citing censorship laws implemented by her country at the war’s start.

“My Russian friend, she understands my mentality and she understands how I feel,” said Novikova, adding that the war has brought them closer. “Of course, there are many conversations we hold these days about politics and about the future of our countries.”

The pair joined their fellow Russian speakers in the kitchen of the female dorm where they snacked, helped cook, and bantered in between texting with their parents and checking the news. Some boys from other dorms trickled in, an Italian and a Spaniard. Girls from Texas and France also lined up for the snacks as the cooking continued in a mix of Russian and English.

By late afternoon, dozens of students had bought blini, with toppings like jam and chocolate spread. A plastic container of cash piled up to more than $300, a humble contribution to humanitarian relief to be split between three hospitals in Ukraine, including the one where Novikova’s father works as a surgeon.

Novikova was afraid of her family being bombed or shelled if they stayed in the country, where her father has been operating on soldiers wounded on the eastern front of the war. Her mother was worried about the family getting shot on the road to Poland if they left.

The blini session is hardly an escape for Novikova, whose phone kept buzzing with messages. But for a few hours she was stressed out with her friends, instead of being stressed out alone in her room.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” said Sophia Pavlenko, a 19-year-old Russian citizen, as she led the blini cooking.

“What doesn’t kill you gives you trauma,” Novikova said.


Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Attanasio is a graduate of the United World College of Hong Kong. Follow him on Twitter.


Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


A demonstrator in Tel Aviv holds a sign calling for a cease-fire in the Hamas-Israel war on Nov. 21...

Associated Press

Hamas releases a third group of hostages as part of truce, and says it will seek to extend the deal

The fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was back on track Sunday as the first American was released under a four-day truce.

4 days ago

Men look over the site of a deadly explosion at Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, Wednesday, Oct. 18, ...

Associated Press

New AP analysis of last month’s deadly Gaza hospital explosion rules out widely cited video

The Associated Press is publishing an updated visual analysis of the deadly Oct. 17 explosion at Gaza's Al-Ahli Hospital.

7 days ago

Peggy Simpson holds a photograph of law enforcement carrying Lee Harvey Oswald's gun through a hall...

Associated Press

JFK assassination remembered 60 years later by surviving witnesses to history, including AP reporter

Peggy Simpson is among the last surviving witnesses who are sharing their stories as the nation marks the 60th anniversary.

7 days ago

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, ...

Associated Press

Israeli Cabinet approves cease-fire with Hamas; deal includes release of 50 hostages

Israel’s Cabinet on Wednesday approved a cease-fire deal with the Hamas militant group that would bring a temporary halt to a devastating war.

8 days ago

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump helps serve food to Texas Natio...

Associated Press

Trump receives endorsement from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott during a visit to a US-Mexico border town

Donald Trump picked up the Texas governor’s endorsement Sunday during a visit to a U.S.-Mexico border town.

10 days ago

Eric Trump, executive vice president of Trump Organization Inc., speaks to the media as he leaves f...

Associated Press

Lawyers in Trump’s civil fraud trial are ordered to clam up about judge’s communications with staff

Eric Trump testified Friday that he was relying on accountants to ensure the accuracy of financial statements.

26 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Dierdre Woodruff

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

Follow @KTAR923...

West Hunsaker at Morris Hall supports Make-A-Wish Foundation in Arizona

KTAR's Community Spotlight this month focuses on Morris Hall and its commitment to supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Arizona.



Importance of AC maintenance after Arizona’s excruciating heat wave

An air conditioning unit in Phoenix is vital to living a comfortable life inside, away from triple-digit heat.

Ukrainian students overseas fret about relatives, the future