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Service Learning Students Learn about the Crisis in Ukraine from Jesuit Refugee Services

On Thursday, February 9, representatives from Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), whose mission is to accompany, serve, and advocate the cause of refugees and other forcibly displaced people, spoke to Ignatian Service Learning students in the Leemputte Family Theater. Diana Haidemak and Olena Zinkevych, who both work for Jesuit Refugee Services Romania, discussed the human impact on the crisis in Ukraine and shared their firsthand experiences working with individuals and families displaced by the war.
Students listened intently as Ms. Zinkevych, who fled Ukraine last year after the invasion started, shared her story, beginning with the initial disbelief and emptiness she experienced at the outbreak of war in her country. In the twelve months since, she has been instrumental in assisting the work of JRS Romania as she manages the Ukrainian team and takes part in all projects designed to help Ukrainian refugees. Ms. Haidemak, who has served as a legal counselor with JRS Romania since 2021, described some of her projects, including safe and inclusive education for refugee children and adolescents in Romania and support services for Ukrainian refugees. 

“The humanitarian aspect of the crisis in Ukraine is not talked about enough,” says Jack Fitzgerald ’23. “The influx of refugees into neighboring countries has caused a crisis in its own right as to how to deal with so many people. But JRS provides an amazing foundation in Romania and other European countries. As Ms. Zinkevych and Ms. Haidemak went through the presentation, it was plain to see how even with minimal time to prepare, the sheer amount of assistance they are giving to these refugees is astounding. From childcare to elderly care, the work and dedication from the people at JRS Romania should be applauded. And it should be brought up in the States too. Even though the conflict is happening halfway across the globe, awareness and donations are key to helping the displaced people of Ukraine. Overall the presentation was very informative and a great way to spread awareness to us and the broader North Shore community!”

For senior Kate Ginn, listening to Ms. Zinkevych and Ms. Haidemak helped her grasp the severity of the situation in Ukraine. “I️ learned so much about the lives of refugees and the organizations that support them. JRS does so much to help integrate and care for refugees. It really changed my perspective and opened a new level of understanding of the conditions refugees face,” she says. 

“The presentation was informative about the various responses JRS makes concerning refugees, and helps give a human face and a specific response to a complex event we hear a lot about in the news,” explains Director of Ignatian Service Learning Dr. Tim Martin. “Hearing stories about the impact of a war helps draw us closer to the people most impacted, helps us see that small acts of charity and advocacy do matter, as well as gives a direct application to what we learn in class about migration and refugees. Knowing this response is a part of the Jesuit network of schools and relief work further connects us to the divine call to love and do justice that is at the heart of a Jesuit education.” 

At the end of their presentation, students had the opportunity to ask questions such as “What is it like in Ukraine now?” and “How do refugees find JRS and its resources in the first place?” 

“Presentations like this are important because they help spread awareness about issues that many know little about,” adds Kate, who says her prior knowledge of the situation came mainly from mainstream media and the news. “JRS provided firsthand experiences that were so enlightening to hear. This aligns with Loyola’s mission because we have to be open to growth when hearing about issues like these.” 

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