Thirty-six students’ faces line the walls of the Olin-Sang hallway. Attached are the stories of how their lives were cut short. The students featured on the walls had their lives taken as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine that started on Feb. 24, 2022. More than a year later Sofiia Tarasiuk (GRAD) has brought the “Unissued Diplomas” project to Brandeis to “remind the rest of the world of the devastating full-scale Russian invasion.”
“Classrooms turned into bomb shelters and battlefields. Fears changed its course and bravery took control,” reads the Unissued Diploma’s webpage.
The project, “Unissued Diplomas,” is an international exhibition that seeks to bring attention to the price Ukrainians pay as they fight for their freedom. Tarasiuk spoke with The Brandeis Hoot on how she became involved in the project and how she brought it to the university. The students’ stories selected for the project are important to tell since they can’t be their own narrators, Tarasiuk wrote. Each of their stories, according to Tarasiuk, is special and crucial since they could have lived for decades but, instead, they were taken by Russian aggression. Their stories should be remembered, but to be remembered requires more than one person.
Tarasiuk is a recipient of the Peace Scholarship, a fund announced last spring by the International Business School (IBS) aimed to support students who have been displaced from their home country. She told The Hoot that coming to the U.S. for her master’s degree wasn’t her original plan. She had hoped to pursue her master’s degree in Ukraine. There she wanted to work at the Klitschko Foundation, a charity organization that supports the emotional, social and physical development of children. But the morning of Feb. 24, 2022 changed her course. “It was just the beginning of the story about my way to Brandeis. Although now I am so thankful that I have a chance to study at Brandeis and have a life full of different opportunities without any danger of being killed because of Russian actions. But I live two different lives,” Tarasiuk told The Hoot.
The war changed everyone, Tarasiuk wrote. She noted that while she lives in the U.S. now, her thoughts and heart remain in Ukraine always. Tarasiuk’s family did not come to the U.S. with her, and while she notes they live safe from active military actions, their lives still aren’t good. “During the winter they didn’t have access to electricity and sustainable internet connection. My parents are teachers and it is so sad that they have to provide children with lessons in bomb shelters,” Tarasiuk wrote. But Tarasiuk told The Hoot that her situation is not the worst, citing the students in the “Unissued Diplomas” project who lost their lives and “who will never see their families and will never get a chance to get their diplomas.”
Tarasiuk learned about the project through a friend on social media; her friend was working on bringing it to her university in Toronto. From here, Tarasiuk wanted to bring the initiative to Brandeis, so she connected with other Ukrainian students and they created a team to curate the materials for the exhibition.
Over the course of three weeks, Tarasiuk worked with community members to determine how, where and when to implement the exhibition. She then worked with TPI solutions, a printing company based in Waltham, who sponsored the initiative and printed the photos free of charge. The exhibition is on display in more than 45 universities in more than 20 countries worldwide, Tarasiuk told The Hoot. The experience for her has been “inspiring,” having worked with Ukrainian students around the world. For the project, Tarasiuk and the team interviewed the friends and relatives of the students who were killed. The project features 36 students, though there are more student casualties with the estimated number of civilian casualties reaching 8,231, according to Statista.
“We created this series of posters to provoke some thoughts. While some people have the luxury to enjoy their routine, others are fighting for the simple right to live. I am not trying to be dramatic here, I just want you to take a minute and think of what your peers in Ukraine are going through in this exact moment. They can’t escape their reality, they won’t even try. They chose to fight. For freedom and life. We want you to hear some of their stories about bravery. From folks your age or even younger,” Tarasiuk explained to The Hoot.
The project has three main goals, according to Tarasiuk. The first is to acknowledge and remind others that there are Ukrainians are fighting on the front lines, specifically peers who are the same age. “Our team aims to further spread their life stories and convey the price of freedom young soldiers pay daily in Ukraine,” wrote Tarasiuk. The next goal is to have the project serve as a reminder to the rest of the world of the devastation this invasion and war has caused. The final goal is to raise money for student charity organizations that support students in war-zones and their families. This goal is “will help us bring our victory closer and prevent further losses among Ukrainian youth,” Tarasiuk explained.
Being a part of “Unissued Diplomas” has given Tarasiuk the space to “commemorate the lost lives of Ukrainian students and remind the world that the full-scale war still goes on. And it takes innocent lives daily, student or not.” In Tarasiuk’s eyes, “every Ukrainian now fights on their own front,” and for Tarasiuk her fight and mission is to be a global representative of Ukraine.
Tarasiuk also shared with The Hoot her hopes for Ukraine, her only desire being that the war ends. She hopes that the end will come quickly and that the country can achieve a lasting peace. Hopefully, leaders of Ukraine can work towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict, Tarasiuk wrote, “that will enable the country to move forward and heal from the wounds of the past.” While the war continues, Tarasiuk hopes that Ukraine will continue to receive support internationally. Having nations stand in solidarity with Ukraine is essential, according to Tarasiuk, in allowing the country to rebuild and move forward. She also hopes “that the international community can continue to support Ukraine in its efforts towards peace.”
“I have faith that we will continue to work towards a brighter future, one where peace, prosperity, and stability are the norm,” wrote Tarasiuk.
To support the “Unissued Diplomas” exhibition, you can donate on their page. Donations can also be made to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide relief and protection to refugees.
Photos of the students featured in the project can be found on page 4.