In February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. While world leaders deliberated how to support the people of Ukraine militarily, the international governing body of the Seventh-day Adventist Church reached out to Adventist colleges in North America and Europe, asking if they could help displaced Ukrainian students whose educations were disrupted by the invasion.
Kettering College answered the call — 50 times over.
The accredited health sciences college on Kettering Health’s Main Campus opened its doors (and hearts) to 50 Ukrainian students whose tuition, room and board, textbooks, and other expenses were paid in full by the generosity of the Kettering Health Foundation and individual donors.
Since then, 34 students have arrived on the campus in Kettering, Ohio, United States, each with their own story of the life they knew, the difficulties they overcame to reach the U.S., and the challenges of adjusting to life in a country different from their homeland. Three of them sat down with us to share their stories.
Before the war, Svitlana Shnurenko, 23, was a student living with her parents in Bucha, a college town 12 miles (19 kilometers) from Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Though as a child she had dreamed of a career in medicine, as a young adult she set it aside to study project management.
In the early hours of February 24, 2022, Shnurenko woke to the terrifying noise of Russian planes dropping bombs as her mother told her the war had begun. “At that moment, I realized all the horror of the situation,” Shnurenko says.
Her family had made an evacuation plan: They would travel to her grandfather’s house in Volyn, a province in western Ukraine about 240 miles (390 kilometers) away. “All the necessary things and documents were [packed] a week before,” she says.
But when news media reported Russia was bombing airports throughout the country — including the Hostomel military airbase just two miles from their house — they realized “there was no safe place in Ukraine.”
Shnurenko, her mother, her brother, and two friends squeezed into their small car with only a few possessions. Her father, a pastor, stayed behind to evacuate students. “It was the last time I hugged my dear daddy,” she says.
As Russian bombers soared overhead, Shnurenko’s brother drove through a landscape engulfed in fire and smoke. They soon joined thousands of cars at a standstill on the road, their panicked drivers all trying to travel in the same direction — away from Kyiv.
They reached Volyn and faced more heart-wrenching goodbyes. In Ukraine, men 18 to 60 years old are not allowed to leave the country unless they’re studying at a foreign university. Otherwise, their duty is to defend Ukraine. “I will never forget that feeling of sadness when you understand that you may have hugged your brother and grandfather for the last time,” Shnurenko says.
The women continued their journey. For months, they lived in the Czech Republic with extended family, applying for travel visas. They hoped to reach Toronto, where Shnurenko’s sister lives. When they couldn’t obtain the documents from the Canadian Embassy in Prague, they went to the Canadian Embassy in Poland.
“It was a difficult path — long lines and sleepless nights,” Shnurenko says.
Meanwhile, they worried about her father. “My father risked his life to get people out of the most hostile and dangerous cities,” she says. “He was surrounded, and we lost contact with him for several days.”
Shnurenko says that when he could communicate again, “the first word he sent me was a message about Kettering College.”
He had learned about the opportunity, remembering her dream to be a doctor. “It was like a ray of hope,” she says.
Vladyslav (“Vlad”) Malishevskyi’s family lives in central Ukraine. “We did not experience the loss of our home or the loss of relatives,” he says. “But the whole family suffered a lot of stress due to not knowing what would happen next — especially because I was 17 at the time, and my family was worried that I would soon be 18 and have to be a soldier.”
Malishevskyi, whose mother is a doctor, was studying agronomy at a local university. He heard his pastor’s announcement in church about the opportunity to come to Kettering College, but, Malishevskyi says, “I could not believe that I could be so lucky.”
He and his parents struggled with a difficult decision. “They really did not want to let me go, but they were very worried about me and did not see a future [for me in Ukraine].”
When Malishevskyi was accepted into the program, his 18th birthday loomed near. He needed to leave Ukraine, but he hadn’t obtained all the necessary documents for a visa. So he went to Poland, where he lived in a church for over a month while working with the U.S. Embassy to get his visa. When he finally obtained it, “The trip itself was quite difficult because it was my first experience with airports,” Malishevskyi says. “I flew from Warsaw to Paris—and from there to Cincinnati, where I was met by the college staff.”
He arrived at Kettering College after the fall semester had begun. But he was here at last.
When Daniela Korchuk, now 18, was a young teenager, her father told her: “No matter which occupation you choose, the only thing that matters is to serve people. It’s all about God.”
As a college student at the Ukrainian Institute of Arts and Sciences in Bucha, she chose to study economics but never actually saw herself in that profession. “I didn’t know how I would be able to serve people,” she says.
When the invasion halted her studies, friends fleeing to western Ukraine invited Daniela and her mother to join them. At their destination, crowded into a small house with 15 people, they decided to continue west.
By the time Korchuk arrived at Kettering College with all the documents required to study here, her journey had taken her to Slovakia, the Czech Republic, the United States, Norway, and back to the U.S.
Meanwhile, loss of electricity and other war-related circumstances have caused her family to leave their home more than once. On one occasion, her father returned to find one side of the house full of holes — shrapnel scars left from a rocket striking their neighbor’s house — and his office ransacked by the Russians who had occupied another nearby home.
The students keep in touch with their families through phone calls, texts, and video calls. Although communication gets disrupted by power outages in Ukraine, most days the students receive messages saying their families are OK.
All three students have settled into their new community and are adjusting to cultural differences. “Everything is different here,” Malishevskyi says. “Roads, houses, food, public transport, cars.”
As they adjust, they all believe God’s plan led them here — to safety and the opportunity to train for a career in medicine. Shnurenko, especially, has no doubt.
Five years ago, long before the invasion, Shnurenko was ill and asked God to show her His plan for her. That night, she dreamed about a room with a high bed. “I sat down on this high bed and read huge books in a not-native language for me,” Shnurenko says, adding that she saw details “so vividly that I was able to draw them.”
The dream left Shnurenko with more confusion than clarity — until she arrived at Kettering College and a staff member opened the door to her dorm room. “I couldn’t breathe,” she says. From the high bed and white furniture to the mirror, wall colors, and wooden floor, “I [saw] the same room from my dream.”
“As the war in Ukraine continues, we still worry about our parents,” Korchuk says, “but God cares about them, and everything will be good with our families.”
Shnurenko adds, “I like that God can turn evil — as in war — into something good, like the opportunity for us to be here and study.”
“And then,” Shnurenko says, “God can use us to help other people.”