Brandeis joins worldwide Ukraine memorial initiative
The exhibit commemorates Ukrainian students who lost their lives due to the war.
On March 14, Sofiia Tarasiuk MBA ’24, a student from Ukraine and Brandeis International Business School MBA candidate, constructed an exhibit titled “Unissued Diplomas,” a remembrance exhibit in the Olin-Sang American Civilization Center. The exhibit honors Ukrainian students whose lives ended due to the February 2022 Russian invasion and subsequent war before they could finish their degrees.
“Unissued Diplomas” is co-organized by the Ukrainian Canadian Students’ Union (SUSK), with a team of 50 Ukrainian students, both in the country and abroad — like Tarasiuk — establishing the exhibit at their respective universities. These exhibits are present in 45 universities in 20 countries worldwide.
The exhibits include 36 diplomas that were issued to these students to honor their lives, featuring a picture of them and a short biography including their university major, interests, and aspirations for the future. These stories came from interviews with the victims’ friends and families, conducted by SUSK and its associated students.
“It takes more than one person to remember all these stories. That is why we, a team of Ukrainian students around the globe in cooperation with SUSK, created the ‘Unissued Diplomas’ project,” Tarasiuk shared with the Justice in a March 9 interview. She later explained that she had substantial support from the University’s Office of Graduate Affairs and Prof. Irina Dubinina (RUS), mentioning that TPI Solutions Ink printed all of the exhibition materials for free.
“We are united in our goal to commemorate the lost lives of Ukrainian students and remind the world that the full-scale war still goes on. And it takes innocent lives daily, student or not,” Tarasiuk said, outlining that one of the program’s goals is to remind others that there are students in Ukraine who fight on the front lines of the war. “Our team aims to further spread their life stories and convey the price of freedom that young soldiers pay daily in Ukraine,” she added.
Tarasiuk explained why she chose to be involved with the “Unissued Diplomas” project, saying, “I believe that every Ukrainian now fights on their own front. The best I can do [while] abroad as a Ukrainian citizen is to tell the world about my country, and I see it as my mission – to be a global representative of Ukraine…My frontline is volunteering, fundraising, and informing. I try to do at least something useful for my country every day, but I also have to study and gain experience as I want to return to my country and help rebuild it,” Tarasiuk said.
The “Unissued Diplomas” exhibit conveys the loss of young life from the invasion, reminding students of how their counterparts in Ukraine are fighting in war, while they have the ability to read about the war in the news, rather than fight in it. “Unfortunately, the [students] can’t tell these stories themselves. [Russia] took their lives. 36 students. 36 stories. Each of them is special. Each of them is crucial. Each of them could have continued for decades but were cruelly interrupted by [Russians] and now, each story should be remembered by the rest of the world.”
Constructing this exhibit during this time reflects the Russian invasion’s one-year anniversary, since the country launched its first assault on Feb. 26, 2022, bombing major cities Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Odesa. The Russian government invaded Ukraine as a “special military operation,” as stated by President Vladimir Putin, to which Brookings speculates the government’s objectives were to seize the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, depose its government, and occupy the easternmost two-thirds of the country. Following the start of this full-scale assault there was immediate protest from The North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
This war and its outcome are important to NATO because it represents an ideological clash of democracy and authoritarianism. According to NATO, its goal is to maintain the international community’s stability by taking defensive measures that are “designed not to provoke conflict, but to prevent conflict.” For instance, the United States has sent defensive equipment, humanitarian aid, and economic support to Ukraine, even though there is no legal incentive to do so, given that Ukraine is not part of NATO.
This year has shown the high costs that this war has demanded on both sides of the conflict. For example, Ukraine has faced major destruction to its cities, forcing over 5.8 million people to flee, causing one of the direst refugee crises in history, as described by NPR. Millions of people have fled their homes and families in search of safety.
“Unfortunately, I had to change the plan of my life,” Tarasiuk said. “I was going to continue studying in my country and work at Klitschko Foundation, but after the war started I had to create another plan.” Tarasiuk recognizes her fortune in her own circumstances, remembering those who died as a result of the war and those who have lost their families. She described that “every Ukrainian has [two] lives — before the war and during the war,” showing how profoundly this conflict has impacted Ukrainian civilians.
There have also been broad global changes stemming from the war; NPR notes that there have been widespread supply chain issues for Ukrainian and Russian exports. Some of these products include wheat, corn, barley, cooking oil, fertilizer, and petroleum. NPR explains that supply problems have caused the prices of food and gas to skyrocket, coupled with shortages that have forced millions into hunger, especially after the economic impacts of the pandemic.
Not to mention, Russia’s highest exports, natural gas, and oil, have also impacted the energy world. Following the European Union’s ban on Russian petroleum products, there have been higher energy prices that have also caused an energy crisis that impacts millions, estimated by the World Economic Forum.
For its plentiful impacts on the world’s economy, the war has not been as successful as the Russian government hoped. BBC News refers to this invasion as “a disaster for itself and the country it was unleashed on,” only serving to expose the “brutality and inadequacy of the Russian military.” The BBC explains that this assertion comes from several Russian military failures that took place over the year: a strategic failure that had 30,000 troops retreat across the Dnipro river, logistical failure that halted an armored convoy near Kyiv, and the sinking of the battle cruiser Moskva, a defensive failure.
Brookings considers this war a “proven disaster for Russia” because of its significant military losses, citing an Oryx report that estimates the loss of 8,000 pieces of equipment being destroyed, damaged, abandoned, or captured by Ukrainian forces. Brookings also highlights the economic losses Russia has faced as a result of economic sanctions from around the world — much like the EU’s aforementioned ban on its petroleum exports. The article also explains how these sanctions have forced the Russian economy into a recession that threatens a long-term impact.
However, these setbacks have not inspired the Russian government to surrender, despite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s urging for it to move forward with peace negotiations. The determination on both sides of the war have made its conclusion indeterminable amongst experts.
That being said, these conflicting opinions have not hindered Ukrainian spirit and support. In an effort to help its cause, beyond spreading awareness of the conflict, the “Unissued Diplomas” initiative is accepting donations to send directly to the Second Front Ukraine Foundation. More specifically, the program is raising money to send reconnaissance drones and medical supplies to Ukraine to prevent further losses and help the war meet its conclusion.