Volodymyr Zelensky, president of Ukraine, met virtually last week with presidents of members of the Association of American Universities. He gave an overview of Ukraine’s position on the war instigated by Russia and also answered questions about Ukraine’s interest in future partnerships with American colleges and universities. The address was also livestreamed to students at AAU institutions.
Zelensky dedicated his talk to the students who were watching. He said all students face some key decisions: “Are you an actor or just an observer? Do you try to change anything or not?” These are life-changing decisions that shape students’ character, he said.
He spoke of how when students encounter hate, they will film incidents on their phones and post the video to Instagram or YouTube. But to really change hate, in some circumstances, he asks whether the students who recorded the hate actually stopped a hateful act from taking place.
In Ukraine, he said, students and others have decided “to be actors.”
Patrick D. Gallagher, chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, asked what American universities can do to support the students of Ukraine.
“It is not easy to maintain education in our state now,” Zelensky said. “We are intelligent people,” and that means students want to be educated. He said during the pandemic, much was done in terms of online education, and some of that work has continued.
But the central issue, he said, is that “many young people … wanted to defend their country.”
Kristina M. Johnson, president of Ohio State University, asked how American universities could help Ukrainian universities recover from the war.
Zelensky said such aid would be “stimulus for life.”
He stressed that the universities should set up programs in which they provide expertise, not just cash.
Zelensky also stressed that “it is important for the students and researchers to come back” to Ukraine after the war.
He stressed that “life is coming back quickly” in parts of the country. “People are coming back to the universities,” he said. In the end, “I think everything will be OK.”
Peter Salovey, president of Yale University, asked about what to expect not only of Ukrainian students, but also students from nearby, from Poland, the Baltic states and even from Russia.
Zelensky said that was “a very difficult” question.
“I understand that we should not discriminate” on the basis of where people are from, he said. And he noted that many Russians have left their home country out of opposition to the war. But he added that he hoped students from Russia would speak out against the invasion. They “should say so,” he said.