Orange Central is Syracuse University’s annual reunion and homecoming celebration, and this year’s festivities drew nearly 1,500 attendees from 48 states to campus to celebrate their love of Syracuse. The weekend featured reunion gatherings, the much-anticipated Alumni Awards Celebration, “Back…
Education, Action, Solidarity: A Rallying Cry to the Campus Community From the Student Ukrainian Club
Taras Colopelnic ’23 was born in Romania, is of Ukrainian heritage and grew up in Auburn, New York, which is home to just one of many vibrant Ukrainian-American communities in Upstate New York. A junior in the Whitman School double majoring in management and entrepreneurship, Colopelnic is the current president of the Ukrainian Club at SU, a student organization that provides a soft landing spot for community and connection on campus to students from Ukraine and/or of Ukrainian descent and anyone who wants to learn more about Ukraine.
Since the onset of war last month, the club has been rallying resources and sharing ways that individuals can provide support to Ukraine. Syracuse University News spoke with Colopelnic, a member of the Renée Crown University Honors Program, about the legacy and programming of the Ukrainian Club and how the campus community can help.
Q: Can you share the history and objectives of the Ukrainian Club at Syracuse University and how you became involved?
A: As far as I know, the club has been around since the ’90s. There’s always been Ukrainian students at Syracuse University, whether from the local area, like me, or from further away. Before I was even accepted into Syracuse, people from my local Ukrainian community told me there was a Ukrainian Club on campus and I had to join. I joined right off the bat my freshman year, and became president following my sophomore year.
The club had been dormant for a few years, so we were mostly trying to revive its programming in 2019 and 2020 before the pandemic hit. For us, it’s not as much about the bureaucratic side of having a club, it’s more just the community part of it. We want to promote our Ukrainian culture and history and share those things with the world and the University community.
Q: What are some of the programs the club has sponsored?
A: February 2020 was the sixth anniversary of the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine. We put out 100 Ukrainian flags in the grassy knoll area between Schine Student Center and Newhouse in front of the Hall of Languages to commemorate the peaceful protestors that were killed during those protests for freedom and democracy. That same evening, we held a screening of the film “Winter on Fire,” about the revolution, which is being shared widely right now to help people understand where this whole thing is coming from, what Ukraine is fighting for. More recently, we had a screening of “Mr. Jones,” a movie about Gareth Jones, the journalist who first exposed the Holodomor, the famine genocide orchestrated by Stalin in 1932-33.
This fall, we partnered with the honors program and the Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics [in the College of Arts and Sciences] to host an event with Myroslav Marynovych. Marynovych is currently vice-rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv and is a famous Ukrainian Soviet dissident, founder of the Helsinki Group and survivor of the Soviet Gulag, in which he spent seven years imprisoned and three years in exile in the 1970s and ’80s. He spoke about his new memoir, “The Universe Behind Barbed Wire: Memoirs of a Ukrainian Soviet Dissident.” It was an important lesson about how valuable freedom is. And at this moment, we’re focusing on how to rally for Ukraine.
Q: How can members of the University community show their support for Ukraine during this time of war and desperate need?
A: Our first call is for people to learn what the situation is, what’s going on. Realize this is a war. It’s not a crisis. This is Russian aggression. There’s not really two sides to this that need to find a middle ground. There’s an invader and an invaded country, and it’s very clear and plain. I think that’s why the entire world has united around Ukraine’s cause and supporting Ukraine because this is the most outward and open expression of violence against a peaceful country that we’ve seen in a long time. We ask that everyone become educated on the subject as much as they can. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, especially of Ukrainians, of people who may know a little bit more than you.
Secondly, raising funds is the most important thing right now. Logistically there are ways to gather items that are very much needed, especially medicinal items, and ship them there. But our main goal is to raise funds, and there are countless organizations you can do it through—international global organizations like the Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies, or straight through Ukrainian organizations.
And our third call is going forward, we encourage people to learn something about Ukraine. Look something up, something that interests you and that you’ll see that it’s a cool country, maybe one you’d want to visit one day once this ends. There’s a lot the world can learn from Ukraine, especially from its response to an invasion, in the way that Ukrainian people are so brave and willing to fight for their freedom. I think sometimes in America, we take that for granted. I know I myself have previously, countless times. When something like this hits, you realize that we live in a unstable, fraught world, and our freedom is never guaranteed.
Q: Why is it important to you as a college student in America to keep your Ukrainian heritage and culture at the forefront of your experience?
A: For me, it’s always been a matter of my identity and knowing that my identity is not accepted by everyone. There are those, as we clearly see now, that would rather it not exist. It has always had a profound impact on me and I feel it’s my duty as a Ukrainian to share what I love, what is beautiful about my culture and my heritage with others. I think that goes for anyone who is passionate about their culture, or about anything they have to share, really. It’s a thing of human nature. Sharing is just an expression of that love, an outward expression of it.
To connect with the Ukrainian Club at SU and find links to support Ukraine monetarily and in other ways, follow the club on Instagram @ukrclubsyracuse.