THE STETSON-UKRAINE CONNECTION — Stetson University student Veronika Shchur, left, smiles for a photo with professor of history Dr. Martin Blackwell in front of a flag of Ukraine. The flag hangs proudly in the university’s SPREES, or Stetson's Program in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, center.

It’s been more than a year since Russia invaded Ukraine, and Stetson University is raising funds to cover expenses for four Ukrainian students and one faculty member who arrived last fall. The university’s goal is $100,000 in donations, and any remaining costs will be covered by Stetson.

Veronika Shchur is one of the students from Ukraine. She left her home in the country’s capital, Kyiv, shortly after war broke out in 2022. She enrolled at Stetson’s DeLand campus later that year. Since she arrived, Shchur hasn’t had to pay a dime for her tuition, fees, housing or other university costs.

It’s been a bit of a change — Kyiv’s population of roughly 3 million is a lot different from DeLand’s of 40,000. Still, Shchur said, she has enjoyed her time at Stetson and in DeLand.

“It’s great. Everyone was so welcoming and nice and helped us,” Shchur said.

The education she’s received at Stetson, she said, has practical applications in the real world.

Since enrolling, Shchur has joined the school’s Model United Nations club and its tennis club. She will graduate with her bachelor’s degree in economics — with a minor in sales — in May 2024.

While her three Ukrainian peers are back in their home country visiting family for the summer, Shchur stayed in DeLand. Her grandmother still lives in Kyiv, but the rest of her family is scattered across Europe and the United States.

Shchur’s story is just one that highlights the resolve of Ukrainians amid an ongoing, bloody invasion, Stetson University’s Dr. Martin Blackwell told The Beacon.

“Ukrainians are fighting to live with the same freedoms we have here,” he said. “They don’t want to live like Russians do under Putin.”

Blackwell is a part of a committee of Stetson faculty who selected Yana Verbova, Yuliia Balan, Gena Gayden and Shchur as the four students to enroll free of charge. Along with them is Dr. Olena Kolupayeva, who was brought on as a faculty member.

Since Kolupayeva and the four students first arrived at Stetson, the university has raised roughly $150,000 to support their time in DeLand.

“Everything we’ve raised has come from the generosity of the Stetson community, the Central Florida community, DeLand and Stetson alumni,” Blackwell said.

One member of the community who contributed was Vo-LaSalle Farms owner Steve Crump. Blackwell is a regular customer at Vo-LaSalle, and when Crump heard the university was raising money to support the Ukrainian visitors, he jumped on the opportunity.

“I like the way that, in our own way, we’re kind of sticking it to Russia and the communists by educating some good Ukrainian people to go back and run their country when they can,” Crump said.

To close out the harvest season, Vo-LaSalle sells plants for customers to take home and continue tending themselves. Crump donated all $1,150 from that plant sale to the Stetson University fund.

“It’s important that America has friends all over the world, and we need to develop allies,” he said. “This is one way, a small way, that we’re making a longterm investment in allies over in Europe.”

To donate to the university’s Ukraine Student and Faculty Support Fund visit Stetson’s website HERE.

Big changes

Since she arrived at Stetson University in DeLand, Veronika Shchur has acted as an ambassador for her country, and she’s enjoyed the opportunity to share her culture, she said.

“We had our own Ukrainian apartment,” Shchur said. “People came to us to try Ukrainian food and listen to Ukrainian music.”

After talking, Shchur said, some of her peers even said they planned to enroll in courses about Russia to better understand the conflict on the other side of the world.

It hasn’t all been easy, though.

Shchur left Kyiv in March 2022, just weeks after Russia first invaded her home country.

“I was in Kyiv when the war started,” she said. “I saw explosions, tanks.”

Her family successfully made it over the border to Romania, but leaving the country took them two weeks because of long lines and bombed-out bridges and roads.

When Shchur first arrived in the U.S., she was in the country with a tourist visa she had applied for several years earlier. She was later approved for temporary protected status, which is offered to nationals from a handful of countries like Afghanistan, Syria and Ukraine. Under her current visa, Shchur can obtain certain immigration protections and even apply for jobs.

Shchur has had to adjust to some other changes, like not being able to drive a car, because she doesn’t have a Florida driver’s license. Thankfully, her apartment isn’t far from Downtown DeLand, she said, where she often goes to get coffee or ice cream with her friends.

Even though it has been more than a year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, the fighting is not over.

“We’re trying to remind people the conflict is still going on,” Shchur said. “People are dying every day.”

After she completes her degree program at Stetson, Shchur said her next steps will depend on the war.

“My ultimate goal would be to work for international organizations, like the United Nations, as a financial adviser,” she said.

Veronika Shchur was featured on our podcast to discuss her experience living in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, what her first year at Stetson in DeLand has been like and what she likes to do when she’s not in school, acting as an unofficial ambassador for her home country. Listen below.


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