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Reaching Out
Marta Dyczok (Kyiv, Ukraine) and Svitlana Stoiko-Hota  (London, Ont.)
Marta Dyczok (Kyiv, Ukraine) and Svitlana Stoiko-Hota (London, Ont.) Left: Efrem Lukatsky (Kyiv, Ukraine) and Right: Geoff Robins (London, Ont.)

They take different approaches, but Marta Dyczok and Svitlana Stoiko-Hota share a common goal: support Ukraine amid the unrelenting war

After she arrived in Kyiv on Aug. 3, 2023 — the final leg of a 42-hour journey by plane and train to reach Ukraine — Marta Dyczok downloaded a new app on her iPhone with a friend’s help.

Air Alert, linked to Ukraine’s air defense system, prompts users to take cover — echoing the air strike sirens — when Russian assault is imminent. It’s a pocket-sized reminder of the ever-present danger for a population plunged into war and under constant threat of attack.

“There’s this undercurrent of tension,” Dyczok, a Western history and political science professor, says of Kyiv, despite daily realities of life continuing in the capital city. She travelled to Ukraine to research the role of social media in war, from public dependence on Twitter and Telegram for the latest invasion news, to journalists using online platforms to document potential war crimes.

Dyczok wasn’t sure in what state she’d find her beloved Kyiv, knowing the death and destruction that has pounded the country for more than a year.

Marta Dyczok in the cathedral at St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, Kyiv.
Marta Dyczok in the cathedral at St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, Kyiv.

“As soon as I got here, I took a little walk to the Maidan, the central square. There’s this big sign, ‘I love Ukraine’ — I had to take a selfie — and all these people walking around. I thought ‘phew. It’s not just the bombs falling.’”

Dyczok’s trip marked an emotional reunion with the country her parents fled during the Second World War. Though she was born in Canada, Dyczok has deep roots in Ukraine, connections that are reflected in her research and writing. She’s authored six books on Ukraine and even produced and hosted a weekly English-language show, Ukraine Calling, on Hromadske Radio, an independent broadcaster in Ukraine.

She was in the country in 1991 when it declared independence and for many of its celebrations each year thereafter on Aug. 24.

This year there was no parade, no flood of people in the city centre.

Dyczok has travelled to Ukraine for research, academic work — including a role as an adjunct professor at the National University of the Kyiv Mohyla Academy — and leisure for 30 years. But her recent trip was the first visit since the global pandemic and Russia’s unprovoked war.

Much has changed.

During her three weeks in Kyiv, the Air Alert app frequently flashed notifications — as many as four or five a day — to warn of looming danger. Dyczok posted daily on Facebook, at the request of a friend, so those back home would know she was still alive.

In a classroom 7,700 kilometres away, Svitlana Stoiko-Hota and a group of students follow news of attacks on Ukraine—and their fallout—as closely as Dyczok.

Stoiko-Hota teaches English to Ukrainians who found jobs in Western’s dining halls after leaving their homeland for Canada. Hospitality workers in the second wave of that work-learn project— created to connect Ukrainian newcomers with employment at Western—study with her every morning.

Like many in her class, Stoiko- Hota fled Ukraine with her young child amid the war, first staying in Poland with a kind stranger who opened their home. She left her family, career and country, in hopes of finding safety, arriving in London, Ont. with her son in June 2022.

“Everything was so different and so bizarre for us. But I had a great advantage: I spoke English, so at least I could communicate and help myself. How do people who drag their families across the ocean, who have been deprived of everything due to the war, survive without being able to communicate?” she says.

Stoiko-Hota applied for jobs for months before finding Western and starting as a desk clerk. She was later recruited to teach after managers learned she held a PhD in English as a Second Language (ESL) and previously worked as a translator. Back home, she had spent more than a decade working as a freelance English interpreter and university lecturer.

Now, she sees herself as the missing link to help Ukrainian newcomers gain skills they need for their new lives.

“I decided this would be my mission here. When I left my country, I understood this was for the safety of my family, my child. On the other hand, I felt I was abandoning my country in the worst time ever.”

She’s since been reunited with her husband and has also taken in her teenage nephew, but still worries about the many friends and close family members left behind.

It’s a comfort to know she is helping Ukraine, even far from home, she says.

It’s not just about language. Stoiko-Hota is a trusted resource, frequently called upon as new part-time Western workers and their family members seek housing, support services and the nearest grocery stores.

“I couldn’t feel more privileged and honoured to be serving my community, helping Ukrainians however I can,” she says. “I am helping people find a new home, a new life.”

For Dyczok, returning to Ukraine and reveling in the resilience of its people — including her friends and colleagues — was powerful motivation. But she put up walls to complete her research, staying away from trauma sites and scenes of attack.

“I need to be emotionally strong and intellectually coherent,” she says in an interview from Kyiv.

She slowly became accustomed to working while knowing an attack on Kyiv could come at any time.

Dyczok and Stoiko-Hota are among the millions of people in Ukraine and around the world tracking each invasion and watching for air raid alerts.

These days, looking for the small wins is what keeps Stoiko- Hota going.

She knows she’s helping Ukrainians build new lives in their new home, aiding the Western hospitality team and resettlement workers across the city with the same mission.

“We might not have changed the world, but we are improving people’s lives and making the world a better place.”