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Student reflects on Ukrainian heritage amid recent conflict

Photo by Ningxin Cheng | The Rice Thresher
Alex Sokolyk

By Tina Nazerian     10/7/14 5:31pm

During the summer of 2013, Baker College junior Alex Sokolyk was at a dance camp. However, the dance camp was not in his home state of Texas, much less in the United States — it was in Ukraine, just before the escalation of the conflict with Russia. 

Sokolyk, a New Braunfels native whose paternal grandfather was Ukrainian, said his family is an active member of the Ukrainian Society of Texas and Zorya, a Ukrainian folk-dancing group.

“We know a lot of Ukrainians through these groups, some of which are natives and some are first- or second-generation Americans,” Sokolyk said. “My father, being a single child of two single children, has kept in contact with his extended family over there as well.”

Sokolyk said the best friend of a Zorya member’s dad has already died in the invasion, and two of his cousins are eligible for the draft.

“I know her and her dad personally, but I never met his best friend,” Sokolyk said. “Furthermore, my cousin served in the Ukrainian military for four years and another cousin of mine was in an ROTC program in school. Luckily, they have not been called in yet.”

Sokolyk said he has only been to Ukraine once.

"My dad's been quite a number of times,” Sokolyk said. “He was actually there when it was still part of the Soviet Union. I've been to Europe before, and I've always just liked the feel of old cities and towns that have been there for generations. Really, you feel that in Ukraine. Ukraine has always been a very fallow and lush area. Whenever you're just going through the countryside, you see these beautiful landscapes. It’s just green, everything is well taken care of, naturally. It's just a beautiful country overall, I would say."

During his visit, Sokolyk said though he spent a lot of time at the camp, he did have time to visit his family.

"[It] was actually really nice, because I hadn't met any of them before except my cousin, because he actually came to visit the [U.S.] a few months before,” Sokolyk said.

Sokolyk said Ukrainians are their own people, with their own culture. However, he said the impression he got when he visited Ukraine was that Russia still has a firm grip on the country.

"More than anything, I would say [my family and I are] just really angry about everything that's happening,” Sokolyk said. “Ukraine is not in a good place economically, so it’s been relying on Russia. One thing that really stuck out to me when I was talking to people is if you want to get ahead in the business world, or in government, you have to know Russian, even though Ukrainian is the [national] language. You have to know a foreign language to even get ahead in business.”

According to Sokolyk, the Russian side has taken steps to shut down all Ukrainian-speaking schools in Crimea.

“They basically want Ukraine to become part of Russia, and snuff out their culture, and take control of them economically,” Sokolyk said.

Sokolyk said more than anything, the youth need to make a point to the American government that economic sanctions against the Russian government are not enough.

"If you get any number of voices, any large number of voices, that can draw our attention to it,” Sokolyk said. “Especially if it's the youth when the youth are united on something, that usually sends a good message.”

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