University president Ron Liebowitz invited community members to attend a dialogue with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hosted by the Association of American Universities (AAU) on May 16.
“You know from your own experience that this is the age where you pick up what you prefer and you choose when you respond to challenges and whether you do anything when you witness injustice. I would like you to choose this path. The path of the active—of being an actor,” said Zelenskyy.
In the conversation, Zelenskyy noted that when people see injustice surrounded by hatred—like when someone tries to take something from someone else—people have a choice over whether they will act. “There are people who just watch and witness and there are some people who film them on their cellphones … and some people who will just laugh at it and others who want to make a difference,” said Zelenskyy.
However, Zelenskyy noted that there is one day in people’s lives when they feel they are the master of their life. Once you reach that control, you have this power that you then have to decide how to implement against injustice, said Zelenskyy. He went on to explain that the day Russia invaded Ukraine he could have surrendered to being a victim and posed no resistance. Zelenskyy said that as a country they were underestimated because they collectively wanted to be actors in this life—to use their power for their freedom as a nation to show they are unconquerable.
Zelenskyy explained that Russia is trying to create a case to see if humanity can put up with them invading their neighbor. If humanity does not respond to their invasions it sets a precedent that the aggressor can act as they want and there will be no repercussions to them because third-party countries will simply watch and let it happen, Zelenskyy said.
“[Ukraine is] trying to create a counter precedent—a counter case—for all the aggressors in this world once and for all to see that war creates the biggest problems for the aggressor… [aggressors] should know that hatred that they spread around against other peoples will bite back on themselves and destroy them,” explained Zelenskyy.
Zelenskyy outlined his vision for Ukraine during the conversation and the plans he has for how to rebuild the country once the war ends. Zelenskyy discussed the Ukrainian Global University—an organization that has united leading educational institutions to support Ukrainian students and scholars with opportunities for quality education to help rebuild Ukraine, according to their webpage.
Zelenskyy wants to focus on the reparation of Ukraine’s higher education system in order to secure, “a stronger, more prosperous Ukraine.” To do this the higher education system will be rebuilt around world-class research universities. By having research universities, it not only educates the population of Ukraine but also “contributes towards innovation, healthcare, economic growth, cultural vibrancy and helps retain domestic talent.”
The conversation involved Zelenskyy and multiple higher education administrators from learning institutions across the U.S. The purpose of the talk, according to Liebowitz’s email, was to examine “how America’s leading research universities, Ukrainian officials and educators can work together to help rebuild and transform [Zelenskyy’s] country’s decimated higher education sector.”
Administrators from various U.S. higher education institutions were given a space to ask questions to Zelenskyy. Jim Ryan—University of Virginia president—spoke on how many students attending the conversation from the U.S. were not aware of what it meant to have their democracy at risk. Ryan asked Zelenskyy what message he would give students regarding their privilege to live in a state with democracy. Zelenskyy said that people come to an understanding that they have a right to life; however, they can come to a point where they take this right for granted. This is because it is not something we have to think about every day, so we forget the importance of having it.
AAU universities have been providing support to Ukrainian students through free tuition and housing. AAU universities are also hosting displaced Ukrainian students, scholars and researchers through direct and indirect ties. This includes access to online learning opportunities. AAU universities are also discussing what they can do in the future to support Ukraine in rebuilding its higher education system.