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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘We are united’: WSU’s Ukrainian community raises funds, awareness for war effort

From left, faculty, staff and students Taras Nazarov, Elizabeth Nazarov, Anna Stowe, Alex Dykhovychnyi and Andrei Smertenko raise the flag of Ukraine near the Cougar Pride statue on the Pullman campus.  (Greg Mason / The Spokesman-Review)

Taras Nazarov has had a lot of long days in the last two months.

A postdoctoral researcher in WSU’s Institute of Biological Chemistry, their lack of sleep has come from working on outreach efforts in support of their native Ukraine. Nazarov, who uses they/them pronouns, moved to Pullman a decade ago.

“I’m trying to put all my life now, essentially 18-20 hours a day where I don’t sleep for all this time and kind of learn what the human body can take,” they said, “just to build those networks of support on multiple levels, humanitarian, medical and defense.”

Nazarov is among faculty, students and staff members of WSU’s Ukrainian community who are keeping busy by raising awareness through a series of local cultural events.

The first, a Ukrainian movie night and fundraiser for the nonprofit Nova Ukraine, took place last weekend. The next is a “Techno Against War” fundraiser scheduled for April 29 at Etsi Bravo in Pullman. The goal of the cultural series is to showcase Ukrainian culture to highlight “what we are fighting for,” Nazarov said.

“I’ll be volunteering to help collect funds and to help Ukraine for as long as the war goes on – and probably even after that,” said Anna Stowe, a research associate in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, “because the only way I can deal with the news every day is to make my small contribution into our effort.”

Stowe, 34, moved 12 years ago to Pullman from Ukraine. She said her family is in a relatively safe part in the western part of the country.

Yet, Stowe said rockets “flying above them,” the constant evacuations into basements due to air sirens and concerns for family and friends involved in the fight have been psychologically taxing.

Andrei Smertenko, an associate professor with the Institute of Biological Chemistry, said he often calls his family, which lives in Kiev, several times a day.

“It’s not just our immediate family that’s affected, but all of our roots now experienced this,” said Smertenko, who moved to the U.S. eight years ago. “My classmates volunteered. They’re fighting on the front lines on the eastern side.”

Smertenko, 51, said he involved himself in the awareness effort to promote the belief that the war in Ukraine is one between two different cultures. Russians, he claims, view Ukrainians as “inferior” people “that don’t deserve the right to live.”

Group organizers cite historical events including the Ukrainian famine, known as the Holodomor, which saw millions of Ukrainians killed in around 1932 in the tragedy engineered by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

“Even before Putin, for hundreds of years, Ukrainians were attacked by Russians and Ukrainian culture was suppressed, and I think it’s time for us to go out and tell about our culture and use the opportunity to show we are different,” he said. “That we are not just an appendix of Russian history.”

Nazarov, a reserve officer in the Ukrainian army, said they were encouraged by family members, some of whom live in Kiev, to stay in the U.S. and support them from abroad, given their stateside connections.

“Since the first days of war, I was, multiple times, looking at them and thinking that I will see them for the last time,” Nazarov said. “I would see how sometimes on the call, my mom would just drop the phone and say, ‘I need to run to the shelter.’ ”

Additional local activities include an arts, music and tattoo event sometime around May or June, and an exhibit fundraiser at WSU’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art later around June and July, Nazarov said.

“We are united with global humankind. We are humans. That’s our spirit,” they said. “We want to reconnect the world, and now we believe the world should be reconnected through Ukraine.”