More than 1,700 Ukrainians are studying in the U.S. Three of them spoke to NPR about their feelings of guilt and distraction, and what they're doing to help.



What's it like to be a college student watching your country come under attack from thousands of miles away? That's, of course, been the experience shared by nearly 2,000 Ukrainian students studying here in the U.S. in the weeks since Russia's brutal, full-scale invasion of their homeland.

MARTA HULIEVSKA: So, like, every day, I wake up with a anxiety attack.

NADWORNY: Marta Hulievska is a freshman majoring in creative writing and government at Dartmouth College. And she's one of several students we called up this past week who are toggling between classrooms, cafeterias, dorms and the news of tanks, missiles and sieges at home.

HULIEVSKA: I have to, like, start checking all the news, like, on Twitter and Instagram, text both of my parents. And after this, like, I start feeling a little bit less anxious.

NADWORNY: Hulievska is from the city of Zaporizhzhia. As the war intensified, her mother, grandmother and sisters fled to the west of the country. Her father, who's of fighting age, was forced to stay. Even though New Hampshire is an ocean away, the stress of what they're going through feels close and real to her.

HULIEVSKA: This is weird to me because I have never been actually under the bombs. But, for example, when the snow falls from the roof and I hear, like, the loud sound or something, I start getting panic. And I have to tell myself that I'm in America. Nothing is happening in America, you know?

NADWORNY: Vlada Trofimchuk, who's been studying psychology at Colby College in Maine, says she's also been struggling with the parallel realities.

VLADA TROFIMCHUK: You don't want to be the person, you know, who talks about war all the time because, you know, people still have their own lives. People still go out and party and enjoy it. And you are in that weird position of, like, how do you fit in this whole picture?

NADWORNY: Trofimchuk is from Sumy, a Ukrainian city near Russia that's been heavily bombarded. Her grandparents are still there, but her parents have moved to a safer region of the country. They're now part of the 6.5 million Ukrainians who've been internally displaced. And she says that doing schoolwork - it's just different now, with things changing so quickly in Ukraine and news alerts blowing up her phone.

TROFIMCHUK: You may write a sentence or two, and then you go back to, like, read the news. Everything take much more time. Whether it's doing the reading or writing an essay, it just takes three or four times as much as it used to.

NADWORNY: Before war broke out, Trofimchuk says she was excited to throw herself into this semester's work. But now when she focuses on Ukraine, she feels guilty about letting her academics slip. And when she focuses on her classwork, she feels guilty she's not devoting more attention to her country's struggle. There's also the guilt of just being safe.

TROFIMCHUK: So many people are suffering, so many people are dying. And you are not there. You are the one in safety. Why - kind of like the question is, like, why are you the one who should be in safety while there are so many other people who die?

NADWORNY: It's a unique burden her classmates don't have to share.

TROFIMCHUK: They may follow the news, and they may empathize, but they can forget about it and, you know, go and do their thing, which is not the case for me.

TETIANA TYTKO: When the war started, I literally, like, stopped having sense of everything that I was doing before. Like, everything just lost meaning because I knew that my family, my friends - they were not safe anymore.

NADWORNY: That's Tetiana Tytko, who grew up in western Ukraine. She's now a Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland.

TYTKO: The streets that - they were bombed - those are the streets where I used to walk as - like, even a couple of years ago. And it's very painful.

NADWORNY: All three students say they've been trying to figure out how to channel their sadness and frustration into something tangible, an action. They've been organizing vigils and meetings of Ukrainian student groups. Tytko is even involved in planning a panel with students from Russia.

TYTKO: Because a bunch of international students from Russia reached out to me. And they said that they're very sorry. They're very ashamed and that they're, like, sad about, like, what's going on, you know, in their country, too.

NADWORNY: She says as important as school is, it just doesn't feel like the most important. What does?

TYTKO: Going to protests, raising my voice, raising money, sharing resources how people can donate. I think that's more important right now than just with exams or, you know, homework.

NADWORNY: Those were students Tetiana Tytko, Vlada Trofimchuk and Marta Hulievska. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.