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‘It’s not just us’: Life continues for Ukrainian student in the bluegrass

This story originally appeared in the Herald’s homecoming news magazine edition, published on Oct. 24.
Tucker Covey
Mariia Novoselia plays a traditional Ukrainian game with other WKU students in the Honors College and International Center on on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022.

When Russian armed forces invaded Ukraine in February of this year, Mariia Novoselia, a Ukrainian studying abroad at WKU, was in the middle of her spring semester.

Novoselia has been in the United States ever since.

She remains in contact with her family, who live in Odesa, a port city in the southwest of Ukraine. She speaks to her parents on the phone three times a day. They keep her updated on what is happening in Odesa and she lets them know what is happening in her life state-side.

WKU student Mariia Novoselia poses for a portrait in Jody Richards Hall draped in her Ukrainian flag and dressed in traditional Ukrainian attire. (Tucker Covey)

“They’re okay. As okay as they can be,” Novoselia said. “They’re at home. When the alarm goes on, they go to the basement. When it goes off, they walk out again, into the flat.”

She also keeps up with her friend Viktoriia Grishenko, who is also back in Odesa. Grishenko said her fear and perspective on the war has shifted as citizens have adjusted to a wartime way of life.

“It was very scary in the first few days because everyone didn’t know what to do,” Grishenko said. “And we didn’t know what happened, what we shall do, and what will be the next of our life. But after a few months [the fear] became not so strong […] We know if we hear some scary sounds or explosions, we know what it is.”

Novoselia knows the consequences of war just like her friends and family. She is not able to return home, and is not sure when she will be able to do so. But she hasn’t let the war derail her work ethic in her temporary Kentucky home.

Since she could not return to Odesa during the break between semesters, Novoselia, a journalism major, worked at the Bowling Green Daily News as a summer news intern.

“She did a wonderful job,” Wes Swietek, the managing editor of the Bowling Green Daily News, said. “Obviously we know she was in a tough situation, and we appreciate what she did for us and hopefully we gave her a little bit of something to do over the summer.”

Swietek said he knows she is going to do great things.

Novoselia also spent time traveling around the United States. She has been to Tennessee, New York, New Jersey and various other places in Kentucky. She got the chance to visit Louisville, which brought up a few memories from home.

“By the river there was this one small street which looked so similar to a street in Odesa,” Novoselia said.

She said multiple people have told her that out of all the cities in Kentucky, Louisville would be the one most similar to her hometown. One large difference she noted is that Louisville had “many more towers” than Odesa.

Mariia Novoselia points to her home city of Odesa, Ukraine, on a map in the Global Agora in the Honors College and International Center on Oct. 7, 2022. (Sean McInnis)

Novoselia shared she misses Odesa and thinks it’s a wonderful place to live.

“I am biased, but it’s a very – I was going to say the best city in the world,” Novoselia said. “It’s one of the best.”

Novoselia said she understands people’s desire to make connections between Ukraine and Kentucky. She said weather-wise the two places are very similar, even if Kentucky’s forecasts may be a little more volatile.

She also understands why people ask her so many questions about what’s going on in Ukraine, and said she doesn’t mind them. People will often ask how her parents are doing, or how she feels about the war. They also ask about the city she’s from and how close the war is to her home.

“I think it’s important to talk about [the war in Ukraine] because I feel like the moment people stop talking about it, the moment things stop – It’s not like it all depends on people talking about it, but a large part of it is the world knowing about it,” Novoselia said. “Because if no one’s talking about it then it’s like no one cares.”

Mariia Novoselia works in the WKU Global Agora, located in the Honors College and International Center, to help advise students on study abroad programs offered by WKU. Photo taken on Oct. 11, 2022. (Sean McInnis)

Novoselia also emphasized that the war is not just about Ukraine. “People should care, because it’s not just us. It’s a whole big, big, big story,” she said. “With its consequences and complications and implications and everything. So it’s not just us.”

Novoselia said that her fellow Ukrainians are as “united as ever, and we know what is at stake and what will happen if we do not keep fighting and protecting our present and our future.”

“I also think that what helps us keep going strong is our sense of humor and the support that our heroes get from within the country and outside of it,” Novoselia said.

No one may know how the war will end, but Ukraine’s fight is evident in the perseverance of its citizens like Novoselia.

News reporter B Turner can be reached at [email protected].

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