UO student faces Russian invasion of Ukraine with fear and fortitude

People fleeing Ukraine

Fear is the new day-to-day reality for Iryna Volynets, a University of Oregon student from Ukraine.

Watching the Russian invasion of her country in horror, Volynets fears for her father and sister, who are in Ukraine and have been called into emergency service. Iryna Volynets at protestShe fears for a friend’s parents in Kharkiv, where intense fighting has raged. And she fears the West won’t join her country in the fight until it’s too late.

“It’s hard to explain what’s going through my head; it’s a constant fear about their lives,” said Volynets, a doctoral student in landscape architecture who lives in Eugene. “I don’t know if the world understands that Ukraine is the forefront of peace in Europe and also the entire world. The Russian president wants to restore the Soviet Union. It’s not a ‘conflict.’ It’s a war.”

Volynets, an international student in the U.S. for her studies, was born and raised in Lviv, a western city of 700,000 people. She knows the embattled history of her country and the iron will of her people.

As an architect there five years ago, Volynets and her partner won an international competition to design a memorial walkway dedicated to the “Heroes of the Heavenly Hundred,” those killed during the 2014 Revolution of Dignity that culminated with the overthrow of a pro-Russia government. Her concept called for planting 100 Tilia cordata trees that would open into bold, wide blossoms, she said, “to show there’s a future for Ukraine and it will blossom bright, wide and clean.”

The project has been temporarily suspended and Volynets decided to change direction and pursue a doctorate.

Her research interest is landform architecture, a field that combines landscape and architecture and integrates buildings into the landscape. That led her to the UO and the College of Design, where the Department of Landscape Architecture offers an undergraduate minor plus bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in landscape architecture.

After Volynets completes her studies, she plans to return to professional practice and also teach at the university level.

But Volynets isn’t focused on her own future at the moment. Her thoughts are with Ukrainian civilians, who are responding to the invasion by volunteering for territorial defense, medical-emergency services and other duties.

She’s worried about what their future will be, but her faith in Ukrainians is unshakable.

“We are not victims,” Volynets said. “We suffer, and my people are dying. But historically Ukrainians were a really brave nation. We will do everything we can to defend our freedom and to defend future generations of Ukrainians. We will win.”

—By Matt Cooper, University Communications

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Division of Global Engagement is carefully tracking the unfolding, tragic situation in Ukraine. Through International Student and Scholar Services and the UO Counseling Center, services and support for academic and personal concerns are available, including counseling and donation opportunities.