I’ve had the honor of supporting Boston University Hubert H. Humphrey fellows, mid-career professionals from developing countries, for the past five years, making some very meaningful friendships and visiting several in their home countries. So, when I heard the news of the impending Russian invasion of Ukraine, my thoughts went to Svitlana Taran, a 2018 fellow from Kyiv. I reached out and we began messaging, including the night the bombing began, while I watched the horrors unfold on CNN.
Sveta left her 9th floor apartment, sleeping on the ground floor of an acquaintance’s home, hiding from explosions in her city. During this time, she received and offers of refuge and support from Janis Volberts of Latvia, Olga Melniciuc (Moldova), Milos Zarkovic (Montenegro,) Vlado Develski (Macedonia), Tsatsa Dambiinyam (Mongolia), and 2017 fellow Alena Vachnova (Slovakia) and 2018 Humphreys from many other countries, who remained close over the years.
As bombing intensified, I was thrilled to get a photo captioned, “Janis took me to his country, Latvia, from the Ukrainian border”. Janis explained he and the other fellows were in constant touch and knew Sveta was fleeing Kyiv with just a backpack, and her shy nature led him to believe she wouldn’t ask for help. With his family’s support, he arranged to meet Sveta at the Ukrainian-Poland border, driving 13 hours, then waiting 20 hours for her to cross the border for the 13 hour return trip to Riga, bringing along a man and child they met at the border. Sveta told a harrowing tale of an exhausting escape for three days and nights, including a 24 hour bus ride cross ing the border.
Once in Riga, Janis and wife, Paula, found and funded an apartment for Sveta. Their two children, Ernests, 7, and Anna Luize, 9, love to communicate with Sveta and created pro-Ukrainian artwork to cheer her. Paula helped Sveta with the apartment ,while Janis helped with shopping and bank account, and the family joined Sveta in a pro-Ukraine, anti-war protest in Riga.
Sveta is able to work remotely at her previous job part-time, providing analytical support for the Ukrainian government to prepare to obtain EU candidate status, her contribution to the fight for freedom. Sveta suggests contributions to the National Bank of Ukraine for humanitarian aid.
As my heart celebrated this true fellowship, I saw a Facebook memory posted by Janis of a trip he and the fellows took to Nashville during their 2018-19 fellowship year, with the caption “All for One and One for All”. He certainly epitomizes that saying by his actions, along with the numerous other fellows that offered support.
This isn’t the first example of true fellowship I’ve experienced in this program, Last year when our fellow Jawad had to leave Afghanistan due to government collapse, fellows from Pakistan,
Noor-ul-Sarwar from his cohort, who encouraged all fellows to obtain Canadian visas, and Rashid Massod Alaim from 2005-06, who helped with travel arrangements from Kabul to Islamabad with some host families financially supporting his family left behind in Afghanistan, as they plan to reunify with him in Canada.
Artwork by Ernests, 7, and Anna Luize, 9