The world will remember Feb. 24 as a date that marked the beginning of a senseless war, a war that brought suffering and pain to millions of innocent people. The events that followed, however, also showed the resilience of the human spirit, and the everyday acts of kindness, big and small, that carry hope for a better tomorrow. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the AUBG students, professors, and staff joined forces to lend a hand to the ones in need, challenge the uncertainty of the unknown, and show the power of people standing together as a community. We collected the stories of some of those people.
The AUBG community gathered on March 2 to say “No to War” with a peaceful demonstration in front of the ABF Student Center. The Ukrainian and Russian students stood together in support of each other, both condemning the war. “This protest showed me the strength of the AUBG community and its ability to stand together for the common cause despite our differences,” said Nino Kutubidze from Georgia, who was one of the organizers of the protest. “I was extremely happy that the university supported the idea and we managed to organize it in a super short time. People were constantly reaching out to me to offer any help they could provide. What was especially touching was when we made the posters before the protest in Aspire Center. It seemed that everyone knew what they had to write on their posters.”
Every day, Mariela Latinova from Bulgaria helps her fellow students from Ukraine, their families, and other Ukrainians coming to Blagoevgrad. “I go to the migration office for their address registration as well as the police station for the temporary protection documents,” Mariela said. “Both processes require a lot of time. I arrive before the Migration office opens: I am there at 8:30 a.m. and the door is still closed. I fill out their documents and do translations. I also stay in touch with the landlords of the apartments that accommodate Ukrainians. My family and I provide them with food, clothes, and other essential things. We are trying to help them in the best possible way. I will miss them once they go back to Ukraine.”
Antiwar protest. Photo/Ethan Perelstein
Mariela and her friend Rumyana Penzova are currently learning Russian to be able to communicate with the families.
“I helped with cleaning an apartment for two families arriving,” Rumyana said. “We later became friends despite the small language barrier, and we help those ladies and kids up to this day. With some friends, we organized a beautiful party for one of the kids at the Logodazh Lake and we took a group of Ukrainians there. We had a picnic and basked in the sun. It was a lovely time.”
During the second week of March, the AUBG community organized several initiatives to raise funds for the students affected by the war. The AUBG Sustainability Club partnered with the AUBG student-led startup Unboxd to put together a clothes sale and donate the funds to the university’s Student Support Fund. An exhibition for International Women’s Day on March 8 presented handmade items created by women that were also sold to collect funds for the students suffering the consequences of the war. On March 9, the AUBG Admissions team and Coffeeforums.bg treated everyone who stopped by ABF with delicious coffee drinks and homemade sweets, once again to collect donations for those affected by the war.
The student clubs also organized “Give Peace a Chance” on March 10 — a mix of an auction and bazaar where they sold tickets to their performances, events, and art, and collected BGN1120 that went in support of the affected students and local refugees. “The auction and the protest became one of those moments where one can realize the true power of our community,” said Viktor Kharyton, an AUBG student from Ukraine. “We mobilized so quickly, we got so much support. This is exceptional. This is something we all cherish during such challenging times.”
Fourth-year student from Bulgaria Ana Valeva contacted the Bulgarian Red Cross in Blagoevgrad and started an initiative on campus to collect needed items for the Ukrainians in town. “In each AUBG Residence Hall, there are now carts where people can drop off any of the items listed as necessary and appropriate,” she said.
А group of AUBG students also formed the AUBGxUkraine Peace Corps and joined the local group for support of immigrants to work on initiatives like clothes collection (led by AUBGers Vera Arzumanyan and Vlada Kolesnikova) and playing sessions for Ukrainian children and teenagers.
AUBG staff and professors were also involved with many of the initiatives. Yordanka Trenovska, assistant to the Dean of Students, was the one organizing babysitting for the Ukrainian kids while their families study Bulgarian at the regional library. “It is great fun to bond and play with them,” said Monika Boyadzhieva, one of the students who helped there. “But at the same time, I have to learn new words in Russian because our language skills are at about the same level.”
AUBG Daily against disinformation
In their efforts to fight misinformation, the student media AUBG Daily curated a list of credible sources of information about the war in Ukraine categorized by language and source. U.S. student Spencer Collins has been writing semiweekly updates on the war for AUBG Daily and its various social platforms. “I think the largest thing that I saw was the passion people have for supporting Ukraine on campus,” he said.
Direct media coverage
During the Spring Break, JMC professor Jason Murphy flew to Poland with two students, Ethan Perelstein from the U.S. and Anastasiia Mozghova from Ukraine, to help with the collection of necessities at the border. While there, Murphy covered the work at the volunteer center and presented it to the audience of the Irish radio Clare FM, and Anastasiia volunteered as an interpreter for an RTE TV news report.
A few weeks after the war began, Viktor Kharyton from Ukraine, Mohamad Hachem from Lebanon, and Andrea Malinova from Bulgaria spoke on the Bulgarian podcast Generation Z and shared their perspective on modern wars.
The English Language Institute at AUBG formed an English class with 13 Ukrainian immigrants. Their teacher is an AUBG student who is also from Ukraine, an approach they say is good for better communication and understanding. Eight other Ukrainian adults and kids are part of other ELI classes.
Explaining the unexplainable
The Department of Politics and European Studies at AUBG hosted several events that examined the war. Prof. Magdalena Bernaciak chaired an event led by Mr. Tanel Tang, the leader of the Policy and Reform Coordination Team at the European Commission’s Support Group for Ukraine, who discussed Ukraine and the EU. The department also hosted a talk with Prof. Mihail Stanchev on the Ukrainian war and its impact as part of the AUBG Distinguished Lecturers Series. Prof. Stanchev is head of the Department of Modern and Contemporary History at the Faculty of History at the University of Kharkiv. An ethnic Bulgarian born in Kazakhstan, he recently managed to escape the war in Ukraine.
AUBG student from Kazakhstan Yenlik O’Neill helped some of the Ukrainian students in the organization of the fundraising events and the peaceful demonstration on campus and is spending some time with the Ukrainian kids while their mothers are taking Bulgarian classes. In the first month of the war, Yenlik also helped with cleaning and buying necessities for the apartments for some of the Ukrainian families in Blagoevgrad. She went as far as giving her own shoes and laptop to those who had come here with nothing.
Why? “You just have to help, if you can,” Yenlik said.