The majority of HU students call the U.S. home, but one HU student is from a country that has been getting a lot of attention for all the wrong reasons—Ukraine.

By Gabe Gaff, Contributor

“On February 24th, we all woke up at five a.m. because of explosions. My city was getting bombed by artillery and aviation.”

This is the reality for Illia Turaba. He is a Ukrainian HU student who is currently dealing with the recent conflict between Russia and Ukraine firsthand. He and his family live in Kharkiv, 25 miles from the Russian border. He is still in Ukraine, unable to leave.

RESILIENCE: Illia Turaba wears a competitive smirk while posing for his HU tennis photo. (Photo provided by Illia Turaba)

“For two weeks, we stayed there, but the situation was getting worse every day, so my family and I moved to the western part of Ukraine. It was impossible to stay any longer. It’s safer here, but we still have air raid sirens every day,” he said in an email interview in March from Kharkiv.

February 24th marked the beginning of the war between Russia and Ukraine that we still see raging today. Turaba is just one of more than 43 million citizens that have been caught in the crossfire.

Right now he is stuck there and is trying to get back to HU, but how did this conflict come about and what does it mean for Turaba and other Ukrainians?

Conflict with Russia is not something new for Ukraine. This war is something that Turaba and his family have felt building for the past eight years.

“Since 2014 the eastern part of Ukraine has been occupied by the Russian military but they would not admit their presence until last year,” Turaba said.

Ukraine has endured an extremely eventful past 28 years.

This rocky history has shaped the Ukrainian people into some of the most resilient on the planet. Kayla Zurburg is an HU student who knows this firsthand.

“I am a missionary kid from Ukraine,” Zurburg said. “I grew up there.”

Zurburg lived in Odessa Ukraine for 14 years. She went to a Russian speaking school and grew up around the Ukrainian people for most of her life.

“Ukrainians are a proud people,” she says. “They are not ones to panic, their mindset is more prepared.”

A major motivating factor in this war is Russia’s relationship with the European Union.

“Russia is trying to keep its border countries not affiliated with NATO or the EU,” Zurburg says. 

[Timeline by Gabe Gaff. Info from Gabriella Tafoya, professor of political science at Manchester University. Statistics from]

“Ukraine was in conversations with both institutions in hopes of joining these security and economic communities,” Gabriela Tafoya, a professor of political science at Manchester University, said. “This is the most serious conflict in Europe since the end of WWII.” 

UKRAINIAN CHILDHOOD: In the HUB, Kayla Zurburg explains the strength she saw in Ukraine while growing up there. (Photo by Gabe Gaff) 

U.S. citizens have begun to worry that America may be dragged into the war. Many fear the possibility of a “World War III.”

“If the U.S. comes and tries to fight Russia on our land, the amount of destruction will be incomprehensible,” says Turaba.

Countries like the U.S. are avoiding actual conflict between themselves and Russia at all costs. 

“Right now, the United States and European leaders are waging an economic war on Russia,” Tafoya said.

Over 30 countries have imposed sanctions on Russia, including the U.S., according to

“But continuing economic relations between Russia and other important economies, such as China, make sanctions less effective,” Tafoya said.

Even with foreign efforts to de-escalate the conflict, Ukrainians like Turaba are still experiencing an all out war on their doorstep.

“Currently the situation in Ukraine is very tough,” he says. “People are worried. No one wants this war.”

While estimates are not clear, the recorded number of Ukrainian citizens killed in this war sits at over 14,200, according to the United Nations as of May 2 2022. 

“The whole country is supporting our army,” Turaba said. “We all do what we can to help us win this war. Many people became volunteers and help our soldiers or people in need.”

Like Turaba said, ordinary Ukrainian citizens have been seen fighting Russian forces with scavenged weapons and vehicles. 

“We are ready to protect ourselves,” he said. “Ukraine will continue to fight.” 

Because of the support for the Ukrainian military, Russian forces have been met with considerable resistance where they predicted there would be little. 

But there is another consequence of this war. Many citizens are not being allowed to leave Ukraine. 

Halfway through March, I lost contact with Turaba. After three weeks of silence I was finally able to contact him to comment about his situation.

“For right now, they don’t let any man in the age group 18-60 leave the country,” Turaba said in another email interview from western Ukraine in April. “I’m trying to find a way to cross the border and come back to HU.”

Ukraine has enacted this policy in anticipation that they will need to call on more men to fight against the Russian invasion. But until it is lifted citizens like Turaba are stuck in a warzone. 

Aidan Parsley first met Turaba at the beginning of fall 2022 through mutual friend. In the past year they spent lots of time together. In a recent zoom call Parsley, along with another friend, Braden Munsie, were able to talk with Turaba.

“We showed him a hat that had the Russian seal. As soon as we put it on the screen, he said, ‘#*$! Russia’!” We told him we’re gonna burn this for you, and he said, ‘No, wait until I’m back and we will burn it together,’” Parsley said.

Even with all of the hardships that he and his fellow citizens are facing, Turaba said: “Ukraine is not scared of Russia.”