Ukrainian Students Study at Gettysburg College through Partnership with Ukrainian Global University
By Kyle Hammerness, Features Editor
Studying abroad for many students is a lifelong dream, but for two students at Gettysburg, it has provided them with a unique experience while giving them the skills to make a difference in the future of their country. Marko Tsymbaliuk ’26 and Sophiia Davydova ’26 are Ukrainian students who, through a program called Ukrainian Global University, came to study here at Gettysburg so that after college they could return to Ukraine with skills that can help rebuild their country.
Ukrainian Global University was created in the first weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. It was created by several governmental organizations and Ukrainian educational institutions. Its goal was simple: to identify talented individuals and support them and their goals so that they can overcome the consequences of the war.
Gettysburg College became involved in this project because of Aidan Wisniewski-Campo ’24. Wisniewski-Campo was searching for ways to get the campus community involved in the issues surrounding the war in Ukraine and thought that a Center for Public Service immersion trip could help the humanitarian aspect of the war.
He said, “I was met by a diplomat at the US Embassy in Kyiv, and he misunderstood what I was looking to do because he referred me to an organization that was not meant for orchestrating trips, but rather for facilitating partnerships between Ukrainian Global University, and undergraduate and graduate schools.”
Wisniewski-Campo, with the help of Professor Rimvydas Baltaduonis brought this to the attention of the administration. Describing the process, Wisniewski-Campo said, “We scored a meeting with Brad Lancaster, director of International Affairs, Gail Sweezy, and a few other administrative officials, and they basically said, we’ll do it.”
The two students admitted to Gettysburg College were Davydova and Tsymbaliuk.
Davydova, who is interested in biology, lives in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine about thirty kilometers from the Russian border. Kharkiv was a hotbed of conflict in the beginning of the war as Russia tried to capture the second largest city in Ukraine.
Davydova described her personal experience living through the beginning of the war saying, “I remember the last day before the war, it was really good day. It was a spring day, and we had a lot of stuff in school, and the morning on 24th of February, I remember I woke up because of the sounds of explosions. I was afraid, I was thinking about my family, my future, what we’re going to do because we had a lot of thoughts that war would start but nobody believed in this, even myself.”
Davydova fled to the center of Ukraine away from the fighting but returned to Kharkiv before her first year of university. Despite the turmoil in her life, Davydova attended college in Ukraine and had to overcome challenges in the midst of the war.
She said, “I went in person to my university, but you see the thing is when we had air alerts, we had to go to the bunkers, so our classes stopped. Sometimes we had online classes when we had a lot of bombings in Ukraine, but of course, you have problems with lights, you have problems with the internet connection and then nobody can have access to online classes.”
Davydova’s high school was bombed during the summer the day after her mom picked up her grades from her school.
While the war was going on Davydova looked for opportunities to fulfill her lifelong passion to study abroad. She said, “I have a lot of friends from Ukraine who study abroad, and I remember I was so excited when I talked with them about ways to find education abroad. I’m a person who likes challenges and to smash boundaries, so it was really interesting for me to receive the best education in the world and to have an experience which can help me to become more mature.”
After applying to several Canadian universities without success, she stumbled upon Ukrainian Global University while online. Davydova said, “During the summer, I saw this program on Facebook or another social network, but I did not apply. Then in the autumn I was like ‘I can try, one more time,’ and I applied to Ukrainian Global University, and it was the best choice of my life.”
Regarding her transition, Davydova commented, “It was really hard emotionally because I missed my family, my home and had a language barrier, but now I have a lot of friends. I have people who can help me, who support me here in Gettysburg, and I’m so excited that everyone’s friendly on campus.”
Like Davydova, Marko Tsymbaliuk’s life changed drastically after the war started. He lives in Western Ukraine and wants to be a computer science major because he is interested in digitalization.
Once the war began, his last months of high school had to take place online. Tsymbaliuk said, “We didn’t have school as classes were canceled for an entire month and only later after that we had online education from that point on and that’s how we finished our last year of high school.”
Tsymbaliuk, even before the war, knew that he wanted to receive an education abroad. His path to Ukrainian Global University was quite accidental.
“I just read a news article about it, and it really piqued my interest because first of all, I’m very patriotic and rebuilding the country as well as a way of getting education abroad and using it to rebuild Ukraine was very interesting to me. I’ve always wanted to get an education abroad because traveling as you know develops you in a lot of ways. I’ve always wanted to do that, and the goal of helping your country in these really upsetting circumstances that the country ended up in, it just feels like my moral duty to help it,” shared Tsymbaliuk.
His transition to Gettysburg College has been smooth despite starting a semester after the other first-years. He noted, “I like to think of myself as a person that seeks other people so it wasn’t too hard for me to make new friends. It was definitely harder, but I think the mindset of people is different. They are more open to new friends which is different than it is back home.”
Tsymbaliuk left Ukraine before his eighteenth birthday which is important because now that he has turned eighteen years old while he was abroad, he is not allowed to return to Ukraine because he will be conscripted into the military.
He said, “I’m really bummed out about that. I don’t know why they won’t make an exception because it’s a huge problem. There’s a lot of students who want to go abroad, or people that already paid their tuition to study abroad, and they can’t leave the country because there’s no exception for anything.”
With both Tsymbaliuk and Davydova adapting and succeeding here at Gettysburg College they mentioned that they hoped that this partnership would continue, and that the College would be admitting more Ukrainian students through the program.
An anonymous source from the College said that the partnership with Ukrainian Global University will continue, but the details are still being negotiated and finalized.
This article originally appeared on pages 8 to 9 of the April 2023 edition of The Gettysburgian’s magazine.