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Russian, Ukrainian students worry about loved ones back home

Right: Maria Khochinskaya; Middle: Natilya kolesova; Left: Taras Colopelnic
Right: Maria Khochinskaya; Middle: Natilya kolesova; Left: Taras Colopelnic

Central New Yorkers of Ukrainian heritage aren’t the only ones watching the Russian invasion of their country with horror. Those from Russia are also expressing shock with Vladimir Putin’s actions.

Syracuse University student Maria Khochinskaya said her friends in Russia were worried they would be called to war.

“Russians don’t really understand what is going on. They were asking me, ‘Do you think Putin is going to invade Ukraine? What is the U.S. saying?’ I didn’t think it was going to happen. I literally told them, ‘Putin is not that stupid. He cannot invade a country because he doesn’t agree.'" Khochinskaya said.

But when the attack did happen, she reached out to both her Russian and Ukrainian friends.

"I have friends on campus who are Ukrainian who have family there. I was making sure they were OK. My dad is in Russia right now. I’m worried about that,” Khochinskaya said.

SU doctoral candidate Nataliya Kolesova has family living in Ukraine. The 46-year-old said her loved ones are refusing to run from the Russian invasion.

“I’m frightened and heartbroken. I persuaded my daughter to flee. She didn’t want to. She’s very patriotic. My mom is still in the country. She refused to leave, and said she would do anything possible and impossible to defend the country," Kolesova said.

Taras Colopelnic, a junior at SU who moved from Ukraine to the U.S. when he was 2, said his country is capable of overcoming Russia.

“If you read Ukrainian history, there’s been a lot of suffering. A lot of people have tried to destroy our identity, our culture, our desire for nationhood. This has never succeeded,” Colopelnic said.

Though support for Putin seems generational, many express their disdain for Russia’s war crimes, Colopelnic said.

“There’s a reason everyone is supporting Ukraine in this because Ukraine is de facto defending the principles that glue our modern world together: democracy, freedom, fighting against this tyranny, this despotism,” Colopelnic said.

Khochinskaya said those who believe in Putin’s actions typically express their appreciation for the Soviet Union.

“They believe he’s doing things to make Russia better, a very nationalist perspective. But I know a lot of younger kids who understand how inhumane his actions are. Obviously, they’re all against it. I definitely know they are aware of what is going on. I just don’t think they have the power to go against the government,” Khochinskaya said.

Khochinskaya said many Russians are opposed to the war, and they’ve held brief protests, but the fear of arrest has kept them from fully rebelling in the streets. She said Putin has accumulated power, money, and allies for so long that it feels impossible to overthrow him.