Unlikely connection: college students in Ukraine and the U.S. form a bond
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Airstrikes are reported today over Kyiv and other cities in Ukraine. Russia's war has disrupted millions of lives in the country. Students are among them. Some are keeping video diaries of daily life there.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: Let's go to our shelter due to alarm.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: After almost more than one year of war, it doesn't scare me anymore.
FADEL: Now two professors, one in the U.S. and one in Ukraine, are trying to bring a sense of normal. They've merged their classrooms through Zoom. Students from a university in Dnipro, Ukraine, get schooled in American slang by their peers in the U.S., and students in Colorado learned firsthand about life in war. Two of those students are Daria Samotuga, a 22-year-old who lives in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine, and Hannah Weist, a 21-year-old living in Golden, Colo. I started by asking what Daria's daily life is like in her city near Dnipro, in the eastern part of Ukraine. Her house sits near the city's air raid sirens.
DARIA SAMOTUGA: It's really loud every day, every night. And at first, it was, like, really scary at night. You were - you didn't sleep because you're just sitting and waiting for something. I don't know. But right now, it doesn't influence my life. I mean, I do miss Dnipro. I do miss my friends because I'm sitting home all the time. I'm working from home. I'm studying from home. And I don't have any opportunity to go anywhere because my parents are really scared. And, well, I don't know, because it's exploding all the time. And my life did change a lot because I don't speak to people right now. I mean, online classes - and this is all.
FADEL: Hannah, when you listen to Daria describe her daily life - you're both around the same age, you're both getting your educations - do you relate to the experience she's having?
HANNAH WEIST: We've all been, like, trying to relate. And it's just - it's hard to. And I think a lot of American students can relate with concerns about safety in school with gun violence and things like that.
FADEL: It's interesting you brought up the gun violence in school. Is that what you would say is your closest association to what Daria might be living through?
WEIST: We've all been, like, trying to just understand the feeling of going through school and, like, being productive and trying to lead a normal life when you're afraid of what could happen. So there's been, like, lockdowns often in high school for me. So things like that, I can - I know the feeling of being in that kind of environment and how scary it is and how you might just have to go numb to continue what you're doing.
FADEL: What have you learned from each other? What is the most valuable thing you're taking out of the experience? If we can start with you, Daria.
SAMOTUGA: I try to not talk about war as much because I hear about every day, and I'm trying to be positive. So I really appreciated that friends from USA - and they were quite understanding. And we were just talking, laughing. And it was fun because they feel the atmosphere. Like, they support if you're positive, and they agree to talk about everything - what animals I found in my garden and about camps in Dnipro and about music, movies as well.
FADEL: Hannah, what about you?
WEIST: I love our chats. And we've created a slang dictionary for the Ukrainians so that they can understand some of the American slang that doesn't necessarily translate.
FADEL: OK. Daria, what's the strangest American slang you've learned?
SAMOTUGA: Well, there were a lot, actually. But there are some words that I don't understand where to put it - like hot potato and stuff like this. When we talk about it, I really can - I can understand what you mean. But when it comes to me, I'm not sure I can put it somewhere in my language.
FADEL: What's the first thing you did when you met as a class to try to bond, break the ice, get to know each other?
WEIST: We introduced ourselves with our nicknames. And that's another thing that, like, might not have translated super well, but it was a fun assignment.
FADEL: What's your nickname, Hannah?
WEIST: I shared that my nickname is Stinky because I didn't like to do laundry freshman year in the dorms. And actually, the Ukrainians told me that that is (speaking Ukrainian) in Ukrainian, and my friends have also been calling me (speaking Ukrainian).
FADEL: What about you, Daria?
SAMOTUGA: My nickname from my mom was Little Star. In Ukrainian, it's (speaking Ukrainian). And my friends call me Cookie, (speaking Ukrainian).
FADEL: And how did you get the name Little Star?
SAMOTUGA: I don't know. It's just - it sounds really nice in Ukrainian, so my mom used to call me that. And she still does, actually.
FADEL: Hannah, I understand that you wrote a poem that juxtaposed your life with the life of your Ukrainian peers. Could you read a little bit of that poem for us?
WEIST: OK. Let me pull it up super quick. And a little bit of context. At my school, we have something called engineering days. And that is basically just, like, a weekend where we celebrate kind of the end of the year. And we do a lot of things like cardboard boat race, and we have a fireworks show where we make our own fireworks. And there's, like, a lot of parties and fun things. So I can go ahead whenever you're ready.
FADEL: Go ahead.
WEIST: (Reading) The long-anticipated wait, the year-long buildup, what's the theme? Who will be here when it all goes down? Who will go? Sick from the drinking and the drugs of last night. Sick from the anxiety of what's next. So many people I don't know here. Where have my family and friends gone? Racing down the creek in our cardboard boats, racing to the border, losing hope. The final night at last, the blast flares and glory of our fireworks bring us to tears. The blast flares and horrors of the war bring the other side of the world their deepest fears. I don't want it to end. Oh, God. When will it end?
FADEL: Daria, when you hear Hannah's poem about these two very different lives, what are you thinking? What are you hearing?
SAMOTUGA: It sounds good, and it sounds a little bit heartbreaking for me.
FADEL: Daria says that they used to set off fireworks in her city, too, but now they sound too much like the war she's living through. Daria Samotuga is a master's student at a university in Dnipro, and Hannah Weist is an engineering student in Colorado. They had their last class on Tuesday this week, and they hope to meet in person one day.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAZYPIANIST'S "JE TE LAISSERAI DES MOTS (PIANO COVER)")
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