Stories of Displaced Students
It started with a tornado ...
In December 2021, a tornado devastated Bowling Green and caused destruction throughout our community. For the recently arrived refugees from Afghanistan the tornado was yet another trauma. At WKU, we quickly learned that refugees faced significant barriers and deep gaps when trying to enroll at our university. WKU formed a refugee task force in January 2022 to address these concerns.
Sodaba Rahmaty, incoming WKU students, and her family were among the Afghan refugees displaced a second time by the storm. Watch her story below:
In February 2022 when Russian invaded Ukraine, Mariia Novoselia, a Ukrainian, was studying at WKU for the spring semester. Her study abroad experience was supposed to be short-term, as she planned to return back to Ukraine in the summer, but the invasion left her on the Hill, concerned about her home and unable to return.
Photo by: Tucker Covey, WKU Herald
Maria is now a fulltime student at WKU studying Journalism. Read her story from the WKU Spirit magazine:
A world away
Mariia Novoselia shares thoughts about her home country of Ukraine
Mariia Novoselia grips a microphone on the back lawn of the Honors College & International Center building at WKU. It’s WKU Global Fest day, and the sounds, smells and colors of cultures from near and far surround her. She dons a vinok, a traditional flower headdress worn by Ukrainian women for special occasions. Despite the spring heat and a sprained ankle, she smiles as she belts a pop song from her home country to the applause of her friends and spectators.
Despite the 5,500 miles separating her from her home and the unthinkable events occurring there, she is proud.
Novoselia is a 19-year-old Journalism student. She speaks five languages. She plays violin and guitar, and she loves to sing, dance and laugh. One friend describes her as a “beautiful soul,” while another says she is “one of the strongest women I have ever met,” because accompanying her warm demeanor is the knowledge of what is happening at home.
Novoselia is from Odesa, a port city on the Black Sea in southern Ukraine. It is known for its beautiful promenades, vast entertainment hubs and whimsical nature, even achieving notoriety for holding a large April Fool’s Day festival. It’s a happy place, often referred to as the “Capital of Humor.”
“As a kid, I was very much into shenanigans, and I remember spending a lot of time in the countryside with my grandparents,” Novoselia said.
She recalls her grandparents’ house as being a welcoming summer place never lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables. She would help her grandparents in the garden, play with her friends at the playground, give her family a laugh with her impressions and dream of her future.
“Growing up, I had so many ideas about how I wanted to be a lawyer, and then I wanted to be a doctor,” she says. “I think at one point it was a police officer, then a teacher and then a dancer. A singer. An actress. Everything.”
She eventually settled on studying journalism, which is what brought her to the United States. She applied to be a World Learning student in the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program, a study abroad program that places students at different universities for one semester. The program selected WKU for her placement, and on Jan. 10, 2022, Novoselia arrived in Kentucky. During her semester in the United States, Russia officially invaded the Ukraine, forever changing the warm home she left.
“A bit of luck got me here,” Novoselia said. “I wasn’t planning on leaving Ukraine for this long. I was originally supposed to return in May. There are 17 of us on the same program in the U.S., and I don’t think any of us knows when we will return home. Our futures are unsure.”
Novoselia shares what it was like to experience her country’s invasion while on the other side of the world.
“It was the 23rd here and 24th there when the attacks and invasion began,” she said. “I remember seeing the first messages on the internet. I called my parents, and they went to their basement.
“I was just checking the phone frantically reading new messages, and it was a very weird feeling because I didn’t expect myself to react in the way I did,” she continues. “It was like I had an emotional mental block, because seeing those warnings and speculations before–that made me really scared, but when it actually happened, I couldn’t even cry. I couldn’t do my homework. I couldn’t do anything.
“I was just staring at my phone. I think I ended up sweeping the floor or ironing clothes, and then I stayed up until 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning. I kept calling them and checking the news. It was only the next day that I cried for the first time since the invasion began.”
Novoselia said bomb shelters are present throughout the country, but if people cannot make it to bomb shelters during attacks, citizens treat attacks like tornadoes–they go to basements or inner portions of homes.
She misses the home she left, her family, her friends and Ukrainian traditions like Easter festivals and beetroot borscht, but despite constant concern for her family and keeping a close eye on the events in Ukraine, Novoselia has made the most of her time abroad.
“I think every day has been full of so many different things that made me happy, and I guess a huge part of that probably is that I’ve been surrounded by so many great people,” she said. “Even in the saddest, darkest days, I knew there were people around me who would support me and who would cheer me up. I could feel that, so I don’t think there has been a day that I have felt fully miserable, even with everything going on at home. There’s always been something that would make me happy.”
Traveling with her friends in the area, dancing in a flash mob, getting involved with the WKU Global Learning Student Ambassadors and performing at Global Fest have been just a few of her endeavors while in the U.S. Although her semester in her study abroad program has ended, she is a visiting WKU student for the fall semester.
To those within her community in Kentucky, Novoselia is honored to represent her country.
“I’m happy that I can share about our culture to people here,” she said. “I’ve been so welcomed, and I haven’t felt like I needed to change to be accepted. My community here has shown me they want to learn about my culture and other cultures, and they’ve been so supportive with everything.”
To Novoselia’s home, she imagines herself with a microphone like the one in which she firmly sings at Global Fest.
“If I had a microphone standing in front of Ukrainians right now, I don’t think they would really need to hear about my wonderful experiences in Kentucky at this time, considering all they are facing,” she concluded. “But I guess I’d say, ‘thank you’ and that I really am proud of being Ukrainian. I feel like being here, I can see that the world knows a little more about us and they’re standing with us.”
Story and photo by: Bryson Keltner, WKU Global
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