Stories of Ukrainian students killed during war part of Halifax exhibit

·3 min read
Stories of Ukrainian students killed during war part of Halifax exhibit

WARNING: This story may contain details that are distressing to some readers

Oleksandra Borivska was on her way to a driving lesson when she was killed by a Russian missile attack in Ukraine last July.

The 18-year-old was studying international relations at Vasyl' Stus Donetsk National University. She had dreams of having a diplomatic career and travelling the world.

Her unissued diploma is part of an exhibit at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, N.S., this month. The project is showing at more than 45 universities around the world to raise awareness about Russia's invasion of Ukraine through the stories of the Ukrainian students.

Daniil Shmahli was 17 when he died on Feb. 25, 2022. He jumped off the Irpin bridge to avoid Russian shelling.

Shmahli was attending Bogomolets National Medical University. He was active in extracurricular activities and known for his sense of humour.

Dave Laughlin/CBC
Dave Laughlin/CBC

Leah Krylova's story is less known. The 20-year-old died along with her entire family, her partner and several of her friends when a Russian shell directly hit her home in Mariupol. She had been attending Mariupol State University for Tourism.

All three had something in common. They were university students with dreams and aspirations who never got the chance to graduate because of the war.

Kateryna Rudenko is a 21-year-old Ukrainian studying at Dalhousie University. She helped bring the exhibit to Halifax.

She said it's important for Canadians to learn these stories so they can understand what Ukrainians are going through.

She describes the feeling of being Ukrainian today as "a string that is getting tighter and tighter around your neck."

"It's just who is going to be next, right? My classmate, or my best friend, or my father?" she said.

Dave Laughlin/CBC
Dave Laughlin/CBC

Rudenko, along with fellow Dalhousie students Artem Kichydzhy and Yaryna Tylchak, are Ukrainian interns who came to the university through the Mitacs Globalink Research Awards.

Mitacs, a Canadian non-profit research group, partnered with the ministry of science and education in Ukraine to offer internships for students and post-docs from Ukraine.

Kichydzhy, who is 20 and originally from Donetsk, worries for his family's safety back home.

He hasn't seen his parents in three years. Although he has an opportunity to talk to them everyday, he says the war has taken a toll on them.

"They just became an echo of themselves because of everything," he said.

Kichydzhy wants the exhibit to remind Canadians that the war is still happening.

"People are suffering, people are being killed, and you shouldn't forget about it," he said.

Dave Laughlin/CBC
Dave Laughlin/CBC

Tylchak, who is 23, came to Nova Scotia recently from eastern Ukraine.

When the war broke out, she decided to stay in Ukraine to work and volunteer to support her country. But when she won the internship award, she said she made the hard decision to leave her family and come to Canada.

"Everyday I worry about them, I check the news, I write them," said Tylchak.

There is a box of items next to the exhibit at Saint Mary's that could have belonged to any of the students — a phone charger, concert tickets, boarding passes.

Rudenko hopes that people who come to see the exhibit gain a better understanding of the Ukrainian resistance.

"I want people to know that we have been fighting for the right to be who we want to be, for the right to define our identities in the same ways as many other nations around the world have been doing," she said.

The exhibit is open to the public until March 22. It is on the second floor of the university's Atrium building on Inglis Street.