As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to wage overseas, two exchange students from the “breadbasket of Europe” have found refuge at Florida State University.
Undergraduate students Yevheniia Mikhnovska and Roman Lysenko were able to continue their studies this summer as recipients of the Global Democracy Ambassador Scholarship, a program committed to helping Ukrainian youth and reminding Americans to stay engaged.
The invasion has displaced more than 700,000 Ukrainian students, according to The World Bank. Both hailing from Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, Mikhnovska and Lysenko were both attending the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy when the invasion happened in February 2022.
Soon after, Mikhnovska left Ukraine to study as an exchange student in Canada, and Roman left to study in Finland and then later Canada. After receiving the Global Democracy Scholarship, they were both assigned to attend the full summer session at FSU, where they met.
“After winter in Canada, spending summer in Florida is one of the best possible things to happen to me, to us,” Mikhnovska said. “I really like FSU as a university — as an educational institution — because I see how to combine the academic part with some non-formal parts like organizations and athletics.”
The Global Democracy Ambassador Scholarship for Ukraine was set up through the Institute of International Education (IIE) to provide scholarships for students from Ukraine to study for one or two semesters at universities in the U.S. and Europe. The initiative aims to help displaced Ukrainian students continue their studies and to educate global peers on the fragility and importance of democracy.
“Ukraine is a post-Soviet country, so it drags some experience from that, so there are still some drawbacks from that time,” Lysenko said. “In its constitution, Ukraine is still called a social country, and the U.S. has a deep history of personal freedoms, economic liberties, etc., so I believe bringing that experience to Ukraine will allow it to change more and bring more economic development in the future.”
Mikhnovska and Lysenko are both majoring in political science and public administration. Some of the courses they’re taking at FSU this summer include Western Comparative Politics, Institutional Approaches to Democracy and Dictatorships, Macroeconomics and International Relations.
They both acknowledged the differences in teaching styles between their home country and the U.S., like the more interactive and free-flowing classroom environment at FSU, where students are encouraged to ask questions and engage with professors.
“Students gain a lot of new experience that they couldn’t really get in Ukraine since the educational systems are quite different,” Lysenko said.
They also highlighted the personal freedom experienced by students, like eating a snack during class, which was uncommon in Europe and Canada.
“People here and in Ukraine are very welcoming,” Mikhnovska said. “We’d heard about southern hospitality here and how it works, and I think we’re pretty the same. Whenever I meet a new person, I really want to share everything, introduce this person to everyone. And I feel that people here are doing the same to me, which I really like.”
Regarding their experiences at FSU, both students appreciate the campus’s natural beauty and spaciousness, along with the small class sizes and personal interactions between professors and students.
After spending the summer at FSU, Lysenko plans to study in Europe and try to secure an internship. Mikhnovska will return to Ukraine in September and resume studies at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. Despite the war still going on, she said she’s not nervous.
“We still don’t know what to expect, but our country needs us because we are young and have energy and some new ideas for our future,” she said.
Not long after the invasion, FSU faculty and staff formed the Ukraine Task Force to learn more about the current situation in Ukraine and to help the FSU community make meaning of these significant events. The Ukraine Task Force recently held a roundtable discussion to think about possible areas of future cooperation with Ukrainian academics.
Mikhnovska and Lysenko organized a special screening of the 2015 documentary “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.” The film details the Revolution of Dignity of 2013-2014 and provides the necessary context for understanding the current events in Ukraine. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the screening begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 14, at the Askew Student Life Cinema, 942 Learning Way. Light refreshments will be provided.
The screening will be followed by a Q&A session with Mikhnovska and Lysenko to help attendees gain a deeper understanding of the Ukrainian context and learn firsthand about life during the full-scale war. Those interested in attending the event are invited to RSVP here.