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Ukrainian NDSU students describe fears, yet have hope for their devastated nation

Students showed graphic images and videos of the humanitarian crisis and destruction in their homeland Thursday night.

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Ukrainian students Iryna Bon, from left, Yehor Polunin and Bohdan Domnich present information about the war raging in their homeland during a panel discussion Thursday, March 24, 2022, at North Dakota State University. The images on the screen are of Ukrainian civilians attempting to escape the war.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum
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FARGO — Even though three North Dakota State University students from Ukraine are thousands of miles away from their war-torn homeland, they are still hurting and asking people to help.

During a panel discussion at the Memorial Student Union on Thursday, March 24, they showed vivid images and videos they had retrieved from social media and friends about the devastation to schools, shopping centers, residential buildings, orphanages, train depots, hospitals, cultural treasures and nuclear plants.

They also described the humanitarian crisis, with one in four Ukrainians displaced from their homes and, at last count, 109 children killed by attacks.

They also shared their emotions.

On the one-month anniversary of the Russian invasion, Iryna Bon, whose family is from the safer, western part of the country, said she woke up on Feb. 24 with a message from her mother that said simply, "Ukraine is getting destroyed."

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She talked about the dreams and hopes of 42 million Ukrainians dying in one day when the invasion began in what she said had been a "peaceful country."

Yehor Polunin, whose grandparents still plan to spend the rest of their lives in the occupied eastern part of the country because it's their birthplaces, and whose parents are in Lviv, asked the campus audience of about 100 and those online to imagine the thought of wondering if "you don't know if you'll see your parents or grandparents again."

He described himself as sometimes feeling "helpless" as are many others in his country.

Bohdan Domnich, from the eastern part of the country that has seen fighting with the Russians since 2014, not only expressed his feelings of sadness about the devastation but also raised concerns and talked about his fears over the two nuclear plants in the country under Russian control.

He said even though the Chernobyl plant in northern Ukraine is out of operation, there is radioactive waste stored and "could blow up again" if not handled properly.

He also has fears about the other plant in Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine.

"This could affect the entire Earth," Domnich said about the plants. "It could be a global ecological catastrophe."

He also talked about some of the other weapons the Russians are using, including white phosphorous munitions that are difficult to suppress and can burn the human body and stay burning in the soil, as well as the globally-banned vacuum bombs and cluster munitions.

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Domnich also talked about civilians being murdered by Russian soldiers while trying to escape their devastated cities, especially those in their cars.

Bon, whose brother has joined the Ukrainian military, said the war is not just an army against an army, but that Russians are killing civilians "who have no weapons, aren't supposed to fight and don't want to fight."

Despite all the tragedies and fears, the three expressed pride in the way their countrymen and women, including many civilians, have been fighting off the invaders in their struggle to keep their democracy and freedoms.

They showed a photo and video of the "Ghost of Kyiv," an ace pilot who they said had destroyed 30 Russian fighters and bombers. They also pointed to a woman born in 1937 who had taken up arms and joined the army and another elderly man who donated his life savings of $10,000 to help financially with the cause.

They showed seamstresses helping to make army equipment.

"Sometimes no matter how small it may seem it can help," Bon said as the three students urged area residents to do what they can by donating and joining in a possible local fundraiser or prayer vigils that may lie ahead.

She said the three also keep their hopes and dreams alive, despite all of the hopelessness involved in the war, that Ukraine can survive.

"Nothing can break Ukraine," said Bon.

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"A single dream can be more powerful than a thousand realities," she said as she showed a video of a 7-year-old Ukrainian girl whose dream was to one day sing in front of a stadium filled with people.

On March 20 during a charity concert in Poland, the girl who is taking refuge there got that chance as she calmly shared a song in a packed stadium.

As NDSU political science professor Tom Ambrosio, who served as host and whose department sponsored the panel discussion, said as it ended, "We hope the war comes to an end soon."

That is the dream and hope of so many, perhaps more so for three NDSU students thousands of miles away from home.

An almost 50-year veteran of the newspaper business, Amundson has worked for The Forum and Forum News Service for 15 years. He started as a sport reporter in Minnesota. He is currently the city and night reporter for The Forum. bamundson@forumcomm.com 701-451-5665
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