Professor in embroidered Ukrainian garb speaking to students

Dr. Martha Kuchar, who has family in Ukraine, shares remarks at the teach-in, held March 1 on the Back Quad and on Facebook Live.

By Roanoke College News

College holds teach-in about Russian invasion of Ukraine

More than 200 members of the campus community gathered on the Back Quad on Tuesday afternoon to listen to and engage with faculty members about the current conflict in Ukraine. Dozens more tuned in via Facebook Live.

Drs. Rob Willingham, associate professor of history and chair of the history department; Martha Kuchar, adjunct senior lecturer of English and communication studies; Andreea Mihalache-O’Keef, associate professor of public affairs; and Kelly Stedem, visiting professor of public affairs spoke to students, faculty and staff for about an hour.

Kuchar, who has family in Ukraine, provided insight into the mindset of Ukrainians and just how valuable the rich Ukrainian soil has been over the generations.

“At the heart of it is the land that the people live on, the land that they walk on, the land that they raise their children on,” Kuchar said. “So it’s no surprise to me at all that Ukrainians are fighting so valiantly for that land.”

Kuchar also compiled a list of ways people can help out with the Ukrainian war effort. They range from writing to members of Congress, donating to vetted and legitimate fundraising efforts, and reading about Ukraine.

Willingham went into the history of Ukraine and Russia. He also read a statement from President Michael Maxey, who was unable to attend. Last week, Maxey sent a message to Roanoke College students, faculty and staff that detailed his feelings on the conflict.

“These actions by Russia are entirely antithetical to our values as a College community and we condemn those actions as firmly as we can,” Maxey said in last week’s message. “Wrong must be called out for what it is and this invasion is wrong. It is important for us to reflect on why we reject the actions of Russia and why we support the people of Ukraine in this trying moment. At Roanoke, we stand for civil debate and behaviors. The actions of Russia are violent acts that overrun civil behaviors. Russia’s actions are completely in violation of respect between nations and people.”

“At Roanoke, we stand for civil debate and behaviors. The actions of Russia are violent acts that overrun civil behaviors. Russia‚Äôs actions are completely in violation of respect between nations and people.”

President Michael Maxey

Mihalache-O’Keef and Stedem took more global views of the conflict. Mihalache-O’Keef said the repercussions — rising gas prices, overall inflation and the incalculable impact of Ukrainian refugees being forced to relocate and change their lives — will extend far beyond Ukraine.

“Everybody in the world is going to end up paying for this conflict, and the vulnerable populations, the poor, the marginalized, more than the rest,” Mihalache-O’Keef said.

Students on hand were grateful for the professors putting together such an informative presentation in such a short period of time. Damian Stifter ‘22 said that every time he goes online or opens up his phone, he’s inundated with out-of-context opinions and news about the conflict in Ukraine. He said the wide variety of expertise evident among the four faculty members helped put the conflict in context.

“The historical perspective that Dr. Willingham has and the international relations theories that Dr. Stedem, Dr. O’Keef and Dr. Kuchar were able to use, as well as anecdotal experience, really helped place everything in context and provide at least a little bit of an answer as to why it’s happening and where it possibly could go,” Stifter said.

Jonathan Gruner, an exchange student from Germany, appreciated Kuchar’s insight into Ukrainians’ pride and outlook on life.

“I found it interesting how the Ukrainian professor talked about her culture and the love of the land,” Gruner said. “That just gives some insight into the minds of the people there, and that was also very interesting.”

Kuchar, who recently shared her story on WSLS 10 in Roanoke, ended her talk with a Ukrainian phrase that serves as a rallying cry.

“Ukraine will always be,” Kuchar said, repeating the phrase in Ukrainian before finishing in English. “...Ukraine will always exist.”