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Interview

KCL societies respond to the war in Ukraine

war in ukraine

Without ratification, the newly formed King’s College London (KCL) Ukrainian Society has been limited in its abilities to support their countrymen and women amidst the war in Ukraine. Since the invasion, KCL’s Polish Society has acted as the university’s primary voice for Ukrainians.

Last Monday, Roar spoke with Natan Chromik, president of Polish Soc, to find out more about their response to the war on Ukraine.

When asked about Polish Soc’s current initiatives, Chromik explained that the society is involved in several projects- some independent, some with external partners such as the Polish White Eagle Club in Balham, and some with the unratified Ukrainian Soc. In light of this, he outlined the society’s efforts chronologically, from the beginning of the war until now.

Polish Soc’s initial response to war 

Chromik stated that Polish Soc’s initial reaction to the invasion was reposting a statement made by the Federation of Polish Students in the UK on their Instagram, which condemned the Russian state and lended thoughts and prayers to Ukrainians. He recounted his extreme frustration with the contrast between this Instagram post and those of the KCL Students’ Union (KCLSU) following the invasion, as the SU remained silent on the matter until the 28th after posting about Pancake Day on the 27th. Chromik’s original comment on the Pancake Day post summed up his feelings pretty well:

“Posting pancakes instead of commenting on and supporting Ukrainian students is just truly pathetic.”

Dissapointment with King’s and KCLSU

Chromik further felt that KCLSU’s official statement on the war was “wishy-washy” and did not “address the seriousness of the situation”. He also criticized it as lacking “tangible measures” to provide support to affected King’s students. While KCLSU linked several university and general mental health resources to their statement, Chromik saw them to be lazily “pointing people to oversubscribed counselling support” while the situation demanded more. He pointed out that where King’s was permitting students to apply for extensions on assignments , UCL was offering to cover flight, accommodation, and food costs for their students studying in Russia and Ukraine. Overall, Chromik cited KCL’s statement as containing “highly offensive messaging” and lacking “a sense of urgency or sense of significance”.

“KCLSU’s official statement on the war was ‘wishy-washy’ and did not ‘address the seriousness of the situation.'”

Given Polish Soc’s disappointment, they published their own statement on Instagram specifically calling upon KCL, KCLSU, and the University of London to “stand up for the Ukrainian students to give access to mental counselling” and provide “more tangible actions targeted to support students affected by the conflict”.

Polish Soc’s next step was to organize a protest at King’s against the College’s lack of action. However, according to Chromik, the society was met with KCLSU’s refusal to allow them to run fundraising activities or protests in relation to Ukraine. He complained that being sent back and forth between different levels of KCLSU’s bureaucracy made registering the protest such a “nightmare” that the protest had to be held outside in the rain, despite the society filling out all of the required forms. Chromik was further appalled that throughout their 8-hour protest, no KCLSU officials approached them to discuss their claims despite them having asked for a meeting on several occasions. He expressed feeling grossly unseen and unheard.

Overall, Chromik feels King’s possesses a “massive level of ignorance” when it comes to the war in Ukraine. He would like to remind everyone that the families of people at KCL are endangered by this war; that it is not a “distant and vague issue”.

Donation efforts with Ukrainian Soc

On a more positive note, Chromik also spoke about Polish Soc’s efforts with the unratified Ukrainian Soc to collect donations of food, hygiene products and medical supplies to be sent to either the Polish border or directly to Ukraine. Students from the two societies have regularly been travelling to the White Eagle Club, a Polish center in Balham, South London, to pack received donations into boxes and those boxes into vans and cars headed for the affected region.

“Everyone can donate, everyone can help,” Chromik stated, adding that collection dates and times will be consistently provided and updated on Polish Soc’s Instagram and Facebook. He also wanted to give a heads up for fundraisers in the next few weeks, given that raising awareness is challenged by students leaving at the end of term 2.

On top of reaching out to King’s societies and KCLSU via letters, Polish Soc and Ukrainian Soc have contacted all hospitals in London expressing interest in spare medical supplies to be sent to Ukrainian hospitals that have been impacted by Russian shelling.

Despite the Ukrainian Soc’s unratified status, not all their current endeavors are linked to the Polish Society. Chromik explained that the president of Ukrainian Soc works directly with NGOs and charities both in Poland and Ukraine. They maintain regular contact with them in order to know where the society can send supplies based on need and ability depending on Russian shellings.

Why is Polish Soc so involved? What connects them to what’s happening in Ukraine?

Chromik explained that due to Poles’ and Ukrainians’ shared history as peoples behind the iron curtain, they developed a solidarity necessary to overthrow the oppressive regime under which they lived. He described how due to this shared past, which was in many ways traumatic thanks to the large-scale human rights abuses welcomed by rule under the Soviet Union, many Poles also feel a personal connection with the kind of injustice happening in Ukraine. In Chromik’s eyes, it is their “never again” attitude that prompted Poland to open its borders so soon.

Additionally, Chromik outlined how the two countries share customs, norms, values and traditions thanks to border changes throughout Europe’s long history which made it so Eastern and Central European communities have mixed over time. He stated that this intertwined ancestry has popularized the phrase “we are all Ukrainian” in Poland. Chromik also cites altruism among Poland’s population as a cause for their help. Along that line, he added that despite Poland’s poor reputation following the Belarusian border crisis, governments do not define civic society.

How can I help?

Chromik felt it was important to remind everyone that while advocacy is rewarding, Polish Soc’s and Ukrainian Soc’s work over the past month has weighed heavily on their shoulders. He shared that instead of assignments and exams, the first thoughts of involved students have been on the war in Ukraine due to both family ties abroad and exhaustion right here in the UK. With that in mind, he stated any and all help makes a big difference.

For ways you can get involved, follow and/or reach out to Ukrainian Soc (@kclukrainesoc) or Polish Soc (@kclpolishsociety) on Instagram. Information on fundraisers, donation efforts, and events are all regularly listed on these accounts. Any and all help and involvement is welcome.

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