Ukrainian UNI professor weighs in on war in her home country

The Ukrainian city of Ivano Frankivsk is where UNI professor Oksana Grybovych Hafermann is originally from. Hafermann settled in the United States 18 years ago.

CAROLINE CHRISTENSEN, News Editor

Oksana Grybovych Hafermann, Ph.D., is the Associate Dean and an Associate Professor within the College of Education at UNI. Originally from the city of Ivano-Frankivsk located in the southwestern part of Ukraine on the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, Hafermann described the city as “beautiful, clean and green place bustling with activity. As any large city, it is home to several sports teams, universities, theaters, cinemas, parks and restaurants.” 

Hafermann left Ukraine to pursue graduate school in the Netherlands, and then the United States. She originally came to the United States 18 years ago, and has stayed in the country ever since.

  The Northern Iowan interviewed Hafermann regarding her love for her home country, her unique perspective on the current conflict in Ukraine and how people can support Ukrainians suffering from the war.

Question: What do you love about Ukraine, its people, or its culture?

“Ukraine is a beautiful, peaceful, democratic country with a long and rich history. Located in the heart of Europe, it is a melting pot of cultures and religions that have been coexisting peacefully for centuries. The country boasts some of the most fertile land on earth and is known as the “breadbasket of the world.” It has a beautiful countryside including vast plains, Carpathian Mountains in the southwest, the Black Sea in the south and the Azov Sea in the southeast.”

Hafermann continued, “Ukrainian people are proud, friendly, welcoming and social. Ukraine is a traditional country with a rich cultural legacy where the observance of certain customs and practices plays an important role: we celebrate Christmas and New Year twice, prepare twelve meatless dishes for Christmas eve, paint deliberate Easter eggs, wear traditional embroidered clothing in daily life, plunge into ice holes, and absolutely love football (soccer). Most importantly, Ukrainians are free and democratic people who love their country.”

Question: What was your initial reaction to Russia’s invasion?

“Anger, pain and disbelief. We have an aggressive neighbor that has attacked us numerous times throughout history. The older generation still vividly remembers the horrors of the last century. But we are in 2022. Ukraine is a democratic, peaceful country that gave up its nuclear weapons back in the 1990s in exchange for security guarantees. So much for those agreements.”

She continued, “As I write this, it’s been 40 days since Russian occupants began killing civilians, bombing cities and destroying my homeland. The level of death, destruction and suffering has been abhorrent. This past weekend the world saw #buchamassacre. The world learned of thousands of civilians who may have died in the besieged port city of Mariupol, and thousands who remain trapped in the city with no way out, no food, no water, no medicine. The world saw millions of refugees, those who have been displaced and lost everything. Children who have been forever scarred and traumatized.”

Question: What are some ways you suggest people can support Ukraine?

“The world has united around Ukraine with an incredible outpouring of love and support. For those of you who would like to help – pray for Ukraine, pray for peace, speak up, and don’t be silent. Stay current on world events using credible news sources. If you want to support financially, you can start with the list of foundations at https://helpukrainewin.org (the first three under “find more ways to donate” have been endorsed by many).”

Question: Do you have family in Ukraine? Is there any way you can support them?

“Most certainly. I have immediate and extended family in Ukraine, as well as many friends, classmates, and colleagues who are now living through horrific realities of the Russian invasion. Some have joined the armed forces, some are volunteering and helping any way they can – fundraising, purchasing, collecting and delivering supplies for refugees and territorial defense forces. I help directly whenever possible.”

Question: Any other thoughts you would like to share?

“Ukrainian military and civilian people are showing unbelievable courage and resilience. The truth is on our side, and it will not be defeated.”