Adventist College Opens Doors For Ukrainian Students

Ukrainian Union Conference

Adventist College Opens Doors For Ukrainian Students

Three Ukrainian students share their stories as Kettering College receives them.

United States

Fifty Ukrainian students received full scholarships. Three of them tell their stories.

In February 2022, Russia's full-scale military operations in Ukraine began. As world leaders discussed how to provide military support to the people of Ukraine, the international governing body of the Seventh-day Adventist Church asked Adventist colleges in North America and Europe if they could help displaced Ukrainian students whose education had been forced to be interrupted by the conflict.

Kettering College answered the call—50 times over.

The accredited college of health sciences at Kettering Health's main campus opened its doors (and hearts) to 50 Ukrainian students whose tuition, room and board, textbooks, and other expenses were fully paid thanks to the generosity of the Kettering Health Foundation and individual sponsors.

During this time, the first 34 students from Ukraine arrived at the campus in Kettering[1], Ohio, United States, each with a story to tell about the life they knew, the difficulties they overcame to get to America, and the challenges of adjusting to life in a country different from their homeland. Three of them met with us to share their stories.

Svitlana

Before the war, Svitlana Shnurenko, age 23, was a student living with her parents in Bucha, a college town 12 miles (19 kilometers) from Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. Although she had dreamed of a career in medicine as a child, she put that dream on hold as a young adult to pursue project management.

In the early morning hours of February 24, 2022, Svitlana woke up to the terrifying noise of Russian planes dropping bombs as her mother told her the sad news that conflict had broken out. "At that moment, I realized the horror of the situation," she says.

Svitlana’s family has developed an evacuation plan: They will go to her grandfather's house in Volyn, in western Ukraine, 240 miles (390 kilometers) from home. "All the necessary things and documents were collected a week before," she says.

However, when the media reported that Russia was bombing airports across the country, including the Gostomel military airfield, just two miles from their home, they realized "there is no safe place in Ukraine."

Svitlana, her mother, brother, and two family friends crammed into their small car with a few belongings. Her father, a pastor, stayed behind to evacuate the students.

"That was the last time I hugged my dear dad," Svitlana says sadly.

As Russian bombers hovered overhead, her brother drove the car through an area engulfed in fire and smoke. Soon, they joined thousands of cars stranded on the road, their drivers panicked, trying to drive in one direction: away from Kyiv.

When they reached Volyn, they faced even more heartbreaking farewells. At that time in Ukraine, men ages 18–60 were no longer allowed to leave the country unless they were studying at a foreign university. Otherwise, their duty was to defend Ukraine.

"I will never forget that feeling of sadness when you realize that this may be the last time you hug your brother and grandfather," says Svitlana.

The women continued their journey. For several months, they lived in Czechia with distant relatives, applying for tourist visas. They hoped to get to Toronto, Ontario, where Svitlana's sister lives. When Svitlana and her mother were unable to obtain documents from the Canadian Embassy in Prague, they turned to the Canadian Embassy in Poland.

"It was a difficult journey—long lines and sleepless nights," says Svitlana.

They were also worried about their father.

"My father was risking his life to get people out of the most unfavorable and dangerous cities," Svitlana says. "He was surrounded, and we lost contact with him for several days."

Svitlana says that when her father was able to contact them again, "the first thing he sent me was a message about Kettering College." Her father found out about this opportunity, remembering his daughter's dream of becoming a doctor.

"It was like a ray of hope," Svitlana says.

Vladislav

Vladyslav ("Vlad") Malyshevskyi's family lives in central Ukraine.

"We didn't experience the loss of our home or the loss of relatives," Vladyslav says. "But the whole family was very stressed because we didn't know what would happen next, especially because I was already 17 at the time, and everyone was worried that I would soon be 18 and would have to become a soldier."

Vladyslav, whose mother is a doctor, studied agronomy at a local university. At church, he heard his pastor's announcement of an opportunity to attend Kettering College, but, as Vladyslav says, "I couldn't believe I could be so lucky."

Vladyslav and his parents struggled with the difficult decision. "My parents really didn't want to let me go, but they were very worried about me and didn't see a future [for me in Ukraine]."

When Vladyslav was accepted into the program, his 18th birthday was approaching. He needed to leave Ukraine, but he did not yet have all the necessary documents to obtain a visa. Therefore, he traveled to Poland, where he lived in a church for more than a month, all the while working with the U.S. Embassy to obtain a visa. When Vladyslav finally received his visa, "the trip itself was quite difficult because it was my first experience with airports," he says. "I flew from Warsaw to Paris, and from there to Cincinnati, where I was already met by college staff."

Vladyslav arrived at Kettering College after the fall semester had already begun, but he was finally here.

Daniela

When Daniela Korchuk, now 18, was a young teenager, her father told her, "No matter what profession you choose in the future, the main thing is to serve people. It's all about God."

As a student at the Ukrainian Humanitarian Institute in Bucha, Daniela decided to study economics yet never really saw herself in this profession.

"I didn't know how I could serve people," Daniela says.

When the Russian military interrupted her studies, friends who had fled to western Ukraine invited Daniela and her mother to join them. Arriving at their destination and crammed into a small house with 15 people in it, the people decided to continue west.

By the time Daniela arrived at Kettering College with all the documents she needed to study there, her journey had taken her through Slovakia, Czechia, the United States, Norway, and back to the U.S.

However, power outages and other conflict-related circumstances at the time forced Daniela’s family to leave their home more than once.

One day, her father returned to find one side of the house riddled with holes—shrapnel scars left by a rocket that hit their neighbor's house—and his office looted by the Russians, who had occupied another neighboring house at the time.

Life at Kettering College

Students now keep in touch with their families through phone calls, text messages, and video calls. Although the connection is interrupted due to power outages in Ukraine, in most cases, students receive messages that their families are okay.

All three students have already settled into their new society and are adjusting to the cultural differences in another country.

"Everything is different here—" says Vladyslav, "roads, houses, food, public transportation, cars …"

As they adapt, they all believe it was God's plan that brought them here to safety and the opportunity to pursue a career in medicine. Svitlana is especially confident in this.

The Hand of God

Five years ago, long before the invasion, Svitlana was sick and begged God to show her His plan for her life. That night, in a dream, she saw a room with a high bed.

"I was sitting on this high bed and reading huge books in a language that was not my native tongue," says Svitlana, adding that she saw the details "so vividly that I could draw them."

The dream brought Svitlana more confusion than clarity—until she arrived at Kettering College and a staff member opened the door to her dorm room.

"It took my breath away," Svitlana says. From the high bed and white furniture to the mirror, the color of the walls, and the wooden floor, "I [saw] the same room from my dream."

"As the war in Ukraine continues, we are still worried about our parents," says Daniela, "but God is taking care of them, and we hope that everything will be fine in our families."

Svitlana adds, "I like that God can turn something as evil as war into something good, like the opportunity for us to be here and study. And then, God can use us to help other people."

The original version of this story was published on the Kettering Health news site.

Kettering Health News

Adapted from the Adventist Review and published by Logos Info.

[1] Kettering is a city in the United States, in Ohio’s Montgomery and Greene counties.

The original version of this story was posted on the Ukranian Union Conference Ukrainian-language news site.