Ukrainian youth tell their stories

Youth from Ukraine visit Bethel and share their experiences at Primetime.

By Molly McFadden

“February 24 at 5 a.m…”

“On February 24 I woke up to explosions.”

“February 24 divides my life into ‘before’ and ‘after.’”

This date, unmemorable to some, was life changing to others. On Feb. 24, 2022 the war between Ukraine and Russia began. Now, just half a year later, a group of Ukrainian youth are in the U.S., traveling to different Minnesota communities, to tell their story.

The first Primetime of the academic year was held on Tuesday and featured this group of Ukrainian youth. The group of six speakers is a part of a leadership cohort made up of 18 youth. The speakers range in age from 13-18 years old and represent three different Ukrainian regions. Their goal as an organization is to develop leadership and cross-cultural communication skills.

The youth speakers told stories about the last six months in Ukrainian, attempting to communicate their experience. They told of explosions, phone calls to family members and navigating the unknown. Alex, 13, recalled his mother saying to him, “Don’t worry. I just don’t want you to worry, but the war started.”

Youth leaders from Ukraine presented pieces of their story in the Bethel University Library on Tuesday. The speakers represent their cohort of 18 Ukrainian youth who are hoping to bring awareness to the war their home country is facing. After each sharing pieces of their story, the speakers were asked questions by the audience.  | Photo by Molly McFadden

This is how many of the youth found out about the war. Explosions early in the morning and confirmation that the war had begun by a loved one. 

The youth leaders take pride in telling their story and representing a country that is working to stay united amidst the war. Multiple of the speakers recall gathering drinking water, looking out for family members and attending protests towards the beginning of the war. “We are the way we are because we have no other way to be,” one speaker said.

The audience of this Primetime presentation was comprised of Bethel University faculty, community members, members of the Ukrainian youth leadership cohort and Bethel students. Students currently taking Reconciliation Studies with Professor of Reconciliation Studies Claudia May and Pastor Dale Durie were also in attendance.

“Throughout their time speaking, they always came back to the feeling of wanting to help, and the longing to fight for others, even though they have been through such devastating times,” Reconciliation Studies student Emma Lovell said. “This really shows their humility and strength through it all.”

[Editor’s note: Direct quotes have been translated from Ukrainian to English.]

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