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The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

‘Just because I’m Ukrainian,’ Nika Chelnokova’s story

Protesters+gather+in+Boston+in+support+of+Ukraine.+++
Sean Sweeney
Protesters gather in Boston in support of Ukraine.

Content warning: Mentions sexual violence 

By now, everyone has heard about the Russia-Ukraine War. What hasn’t been in the spotlight, however, is the struggle of Suffolk University’s own Ukrainian students. 

Suffolk junior Nika Chelnokova was relaxing with her roommate when she received news that her hometown of Kyiv, Ukraine was being invaded by Russia last month.

Her roommate said she saw news that bombs are visible from Kyiv, where Chelnokova’s parents and brother currently live. 

With her stomach in a knot, she called her mother. At the time she was sleeping, but Chelnokova’s phone call woke her. 

“Do you know what’s going on? The war started, they are bombing every city,” Chelnokova told her mother. Her mother said she’d call her back, and she then called her father.

When she called her father, he was already awake from the sounds of the nearby bombs. 

“For the first few days [of the war], I couldn’t sleep here [in Boston] because they were bombing early in the morning,” Chelnokova said. “It could be my last conversation with my parents.”

Chelnokova wants to bring to light what she said isn’t being talked about enough in the media, like when in Bucha, Ukraine, Russian soldiers massacred civilians and left their bodies next to piles of trash.

Russian soldiers even threatened women by saying they would kill their children if they didn’t make sexual advances with them, Chelnokova said. They continued to rape these women, tie their hands behind their backs and leave their bodies on the street as if they were trash.

“It could be me, raped, shot and dead, rotting in the streets there just because I’m Ukrainian,” said Chelnokova.

Mariupol is also in immense suffering after a bombing took place at a maternity hospital on Mar. 9. According to CNN, Russian officials claimed to have thought Ukraine military forces were stationed in the hospital, and there were no civilians left there before the bombing. 

When this came to Chelnokova’s attention, she begged her family to leave Ukraine and find shelter in a “secluded village” because she did not think they would attack there. She expressed her concerns to her older brother.

“Usually they wouldn’t touch a maternity hospital,” Chelnokova’s brother told her.

Even if they wanted to take their chances at leaving Ukraine, Chelnokova’s father and brother are of ages that are currently banned from leaving the country, as martial law now requires all men between ages 18 and 60 to stay in Ukraine to fight if needed.

The occupants of Mariupol have been left in a terrible situation, with no reliable sources of water, food, medical supplies, heat or electricity. 

“They are finding snow and drinking [water] from snow,” said Chelnokova. “The mothers are writing on the backs of their kids the kid’s information…they are afraid the parents will die first,” she added.

Chelnokova emphasized the amount of destruction the war has caused on Kharkiv, a city in northeast Ukraine. According to The New York Times, about 95% of the city, which is the second largest in Ukraine, has been demolished. The city was home to 1.5 million people before the war started. As a result of bombings and attacks, over 500 lives have been lost in Kharkiv. 

The last thing Chelnokova wants to do for Ukraine is nothing. She has raised over $1,000 and is continuing to raise more for Ukraine through fundraising events her and other Ukrainian students in the United States have held. 

Chelnokova and a student at MIT, Artem Laptiev, got to work to create Boston Support Ukraine. The organization has three other team members: Tetiana Litus, Valeriia Vovk and Long Artem Dinh. The Instagram account now has over 800 followers. 

“There’s a lot of people doing different events and we have to collaborate…it would be more efficient,” said Chelkonova. 

The organization has already held a number of fundraising events and has more coming up. On Thursday, they held a Ukraine Vigil at MIT. 

Universities from across the United States participated, including Suffolk, MIT, Northeastern, University of Notre Dame, University of Florida, Purdue and many more.  

Every event put on by Boston Support Ukraine has been successful, and they do not plan on stopping until everyone stands with Ukraine, Chelnokova said, adding that the organization’s main goal is to spread awareness. The war is in the news and everyone is aware of it, but few understand the heartache of having a war happening so close to home, she said.

Chelnokova has come across many selfless people during the number of fundraisers she’s attended. She met two young girls who had baked Ukrainian foods and she asked them who from their family was in Ukraine. 

“We don’t have anyone,” they replied. “We are just here to support Ukraine.” 

“I’m like, ‘Wow, this impressive,’” said Chelnokova. 

Throughout it all, Chelnokova and her peers continue to focus on their academics in addition to organizing their events, all while dealing with these unprecedented times. 

“My dad called me up and he was like, ‘but don’t forget why you came to the United States. To study and get a degree. No matter how hard it is, you have to go to these classes, study and work hard,’” Chelnokova said. 

Chelnokova is very thankful for the position she is in right now. She is safe, and her loved ones are alive. She has high hopes for her organization and will continue to raise money to help save her home.

Follow Sarah on Twitter @saraherobs

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Sarah Roberts
Sarah Roberts, News Editor | she/her
Sarah is a senior from Taunton, Massachusetts, majoring in print and web journalism. She’s on the cross country and indoor/outdoor track and field teams. When she’s not running along the Charles or doing laps on the track in East Boston, you will probably find her in a coffee shop. Sarah is a coffee connoisseur and enjoys trying new coffee places frequently. In her free time if she isn’t reading, she’s watching some true crime shows or rewatching Gilmore Girls for the hundredth time. After college, she hopes to work in investigative journalism.
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‘Just because I’m Ukrainian,’ Nika Chelnokova’s story