Stories from Our Community

Alumnus Dmytro Kuchirka Hopes to Return to Ukraine ‘to Make Life Better’ and Help Rebuild

He was in his senior year at the Maxwell School when the Russian invasion began.

Dmytro Kuchirka ’22 B.A. (Econ/IR) returned to Syracuse from his home in Ukraine just three weeks before the Russian invasion. He had been home for winter break during his senior year at the Maxwell School.

Though his family expected the invasion based on weeks of military activity and media predictions, he said, “It was surreal to hear my mom say the war had started.”

In the weeks that followed, Kuchirka did his best to keep up with his studies amid unrelenting worry. What was unfolding in real-time for his loved ones back home was the subject of difficult classroom discussions. His professors were understanding and assured him he could opt out, yet he never shied from speaking about the war. “It is important to talk about it,” he said, “otherwise the truth may get silenced by the rampant disinformation. Explaining the events is crucial for our victory.”

His parents spent the first weeks of the invasion sheltering in their basement. His friend was forced to take cover with her baby in an underground parking lot for three days. On the fourth day, she piled into a compact car with the baby, friends and a pet dog, and embarked on a 20-hour drive to a safer part of the country—the route, which normally would have taken seven hours, took them past destroyed buildings and roads littered with burned cars and human remains. “Missile strikes reduced civilian infrastructure to ashes, leaving residents of once peaceful cities trapped beneath the ruins,” he said.

Kuchirka considered returning home to join the fight, but said, “After talking to my parents, I didn’t find the courage to do it.” He added, “When your mom cries and tells you not to join, it’s a bit hard.”

Like many other Ukrainians in the U.S., he did what he could from afar. He joined an organization that delivered medical supplies to the front lines. Additionally, he helped organize an auction of art by Ukrainian painters in Washington, D.C., and donated proceeds to hospitals dedicated to the care of wounded children in Ukraine. Still, he said, “For me, personally, no matter what I am doing, I am not doing enough.”

As the war went on for months, and then a year, Kuchirka said he noticed a marked difference in his loved ones’ reactions. Though still threatened by shelling, his parents returned to sleep in their second-floor bedroom. Ukrainians resumed normal social activities despite the constant air raid sirens, he said.

“They would tell me, ‘Yes, the air sirens are going off, I’ll just play some music,’ or ‘Good day to wear silky pajamas—if they will find me in the rubble, at least I will be wearing something nice,’” he said. “All of these things you hear are just so unnerving.”

Kuchirka is pursuing a master’s degree at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management while working for an alternative energy company in Boston.

“I intend to gain some work experience here, so I can go back to Ukraine and make life better, to help Ukraine reestablish itself after this war,” he said. “That’s what I am compelled to do as a Ukrainian who was lucky to be outside of Ukraine.”

By Jessica Youngman

Published in the Fall 2023 issue of the Maxwell Perspective