Posted 8 a.m. Thursday, March 31, 2022

UWL students Dan Fedorenko and Jamie Schoen are spearheading a campus fundraiser supporting the people of Ukraine. Fedorenko grew up in Ukraine and has friends and family members who have been affected by the ongoing war with Russia.

Student with Ukrainian ties launches fundraiser amid conflict with Russia

Dan Fedorenko spent the first 16 years of his life in Ukraine. Many of his friends and family still live there. 

To him, the war between Ukraine and Russia is much more than a distant news story unfolding over TV and social media — it has affected him in powerful and personal ways. 

“The first four or five days, I couldn’t sleep for more than a few hours each night,” says Fedorenko, a UWL junior majoring in computer science. Since the war broke out, he starts each morning by checking the news and contacting his loved ones, to see if they’re still alive. “Knowing what’s happening and who’s still over there, feeling like there’s nothing I can do … it’s been really hard.” 

Initially, Fedorenko wanted to drop everything, fly to Ukraine and do whatever he could to help his friends and family. His family in the United States advised against it. 

So, Fedorenko thought of another way to make a difference. With the help of classmates, faculty and the Archaeology & Anthropology Club, he is launching a fundraiser supporting those affected by the conflict. 

The week of April 4-8, the group will run a table on the first floor of the Student Union, where they are selling buttons with student-made artwork. Proceeds will benefit Razom, a nonprofit organization supporting the people Ukraine in their pursuit of a democratic society with dignity, justice and human and civil rights for all. 

“People need to know that war is not as glorious as it’s shown on TV,” Fedorenko says. “People are suffering, and how can you be OK with that? They need our help.”

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Fedorenko is from Kharkiv, a city of 1.4 million people about 25 miles from the Russian border. He and his immediate family moved to the Netherlands when he was 16, and came to the United States a year later. 

During Fedorenko’s time in Ukraine, Russia posed a constant threat to his home country’s safety and independence. This threat intensified with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. 

But to Fedorenko, the possibility of war never seemed real until Russian troops invaded in late February. 

“We’re all surprised it’s escalated to the point that it has,” he says. “Nobody believed anything like this would happen.” 

While some of his loved ones have escaped to Poland, others remain in harm’s way. 

The anxiety he feels each morning, waiting to hear about the status of loved ones, is a feeling shared by the millions of people around the world with ties to Ukraine. 

Fedorenko’s friends and classmates feel some of that weight, too. 

“Being friends with Dan really pulled me into it, to the point where Ukraine almost feels like my second home,” notes Jamie Schoen, a junior majoring in geography. “When you’re exposed to someone who has lived there and had those experiences, it really puts you in that person’s shoes.” 

As someone who previously knew very little about Ukraine and its relationship with Russia, Schoen says Americans should follow reliable news sources, seek out firsthand accounts from those living in Ukraine, and exercise compassion. 

As for how the war may end, Fedorenko doesn’t see either side giving in easily. 

He hopes Ukrainian allies will levy stricter sanctions against Russia, and that the Russian people will come together and overthrow their government. 

Short of that, Fedorenko worries that the human toll will continue to mount. 

“Ukraine has a history of being attacked by so many different people over the years, and we always come back. I know my people will never surrender,” he says. “But as much as I want Ukraine to win, I know it will come at the cost of normal people having to do dangerous and heroic things.”