The War in Ukraine: A Student Perspective
Ukrainian teen hold sign at protest

A week after the invasion of her homeland, Masha reflects.

[The following is an opinion piece written by a PAX/FLEX student. PAX is happy to provide a platform for her perspective.]


24th of February was the day when our lives stopped. The pages of history are being rewritten right now—at this very second—in Ukraine.

My name is Masha. I am from Ukraine.

I came to the U.S. as a Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program exchange student. I got to know about the FLEX program when I was in eighth grade, and I was always dreaming of taking part in it. I wanted to ride a yellow school bus, to get to know American family traditions, to travel across the ocean.

It was my second try to win a FLEX competition when I finally got in. I heard the news at my history class at school. I was so happy I cried. I phoned my mom, and my friends congratulated me. I remember packing my stuff and imagining my great adventure. My parents bought me such a pretty suitcase. We spent evenings talking about what kind of classes I was going to take, what kind of food I want to taste, etc.

I left a happy, peaceful Ukraine with a clean sky.

My life in Ukraine was so careless and easy. I had fun times with my friends. We were going to the movie theatres and cafes. I had the best grades at school and was winning lots of competitions. I was spending my free time writing my books and poems. I liked playing video games with my dad and watching movies and talking about everything in the world with my mom.

My family, friends, and school supported me with my journey to the U.S.A. and were so excited and happy for me. After arriving, I was telling them about American school, showing them places I visited here—traditions, history, etc.

I have the best host family here in Michigan. I got my best sister I never had. I love my host parents and grandparents. They are the kindest and the coolest people in the world. We are travelling a lot and always spending time together. They are very supportive right now, at a time hard for all of us.

Only now, I understand how valuable life is. War changes people.

Now, I am calling my parents just to know they are alive and to make sure they know how much I love them. I like seeing my dogs and cats on the camera.

I was coming to the U.S. to study, read books, and meet new people. I came as an ambassador to introduce my culture: our beautiful vyshyvankas, delicious borsch and varenyky, modern and traditional songs…But now, I am telling people about the war.

Russia dirtily invaded Ukraine at 5 a.m. on February 24, while all the people were sleeping. My beautiful cities are bombed. My friends are hiding in basements—innocent people who also had their dreams and plans for the future. The next generation of exchange students is dying.

The streets I liked to walk in Kyiv, new gorgeous bridges, the university I wanted to enter—they're all under bombs. I still don’t think I understand well that I will go back to Ukraine and see…nothing.

Ashes, tears, and dead dreams: all that’s left from my growing, blooming country.

Russians are bombing kindergartens, schools, hospitals, maternity homes, and residential buildings. Innocent people are dying. Children are dying.

It’s the 21st century. And the aggressor stays unpunished.

One of the Russians’ weapons is disinformation. They lie to their own people, use censors, and put restrictions. They say, there is no war, that they don’t kill civilians, and that they came to “save Ukraine” and bring us “Russian peace.”

I don’t need to be saved! I had a life! I had a home! I need my family alive!

We did not ask for your “Russian peace.”

Russia wants to show they are better than the democratic world. They want our territories, and if we don’t stop them, their tastes will grow, and your country might be next.

I am shouting, begging for the world to draw attention to the war crimes Putin is committing in Ukraine. I am begging you to draw attention.

We need your help. You need to take care of your future.

I am not afraid to speak up. I am afraid not to be heard.

We see people all over the world standing with Ukraine. They are not afraid either. Because the whole world knows that Ukraine is protecting democracy, human rights, and the future of all of us.

We are protecting our land, our home and our families. The truth is on our side.

  • I am asking you to read trustful news.

  • Share information.

  • Donate to children, refugees, and the Ukrainian army.

  • Protest against Russian aggression.

  • Plea to your senators to close the sky above Ukraine.

I want to come back when my exchange program ends to the same happy city with a clear sky above my head.

I want to live.

I want my parents to live.

I want my home to live.

I want the world to unite and bring peace. Because I know we are strong together.

—Mariia (FLEX, Ukraine), hosted by the Busch family (MI)



Select Organizations Doing Important Work in Ukraine Follow



American Councils for International Education
American Councils, PAX's long-time partner in the region through the FLEX program, is committed to supporting the participants of their programs, their families, and their communities as well as their Ukraine staff. Contributions to the Emergency Support for Ukraine Initiative will directly benefit efforts led by American Councils and by alumni of the educational and public diplomacy programs they administer (including FLEX) to provide humanitarian support to those in Ukraine as well as refugees in Poland, Moldova, and elsewhere.

International Committee of the Red Cross
Working closely with the Ukrainian Red Cross Society, the International Committee of the Red Cross' work in Ukraine includes emergency assistance such as food, water, and other essential items. They also support hospitals and primary healthcare facilities with medical equipment and emergency preparedness. 

UNICEF supports health, nutrition, education, safe drinking water, sanitation, and protection for children and families caught in the conflict in Ukraine.

Médecins Sans Frontieres
Doctors Without Borders runs a range of activities in Ukraine working with local volunteers, organizations, health care professionals, and authorities to help people travel to health care facilities and access prescribed medications.

Voices of Children
Voices of Children helps provide psychological and psychosocial support to children affected by the armed conflict.

Save the Children
Save the Children helps to deliver immediate aid, such as food, water, hygiene kits, psychosocial support, and cash assistance.