York University students invigorated by Zelenskyy’s address

Flag of Ukraine

By Elaine Smith

The event, hosted by the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, linked Zelenskyy with students at universities from across Canada. 

Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister, Chrystia Freeland, who introduced Zelenskyy to the audience, renewed Canada’s commitment to being an ally.

“Putin tried to show that tyranny can defeat democracy and we can’t allow him to succeed,” Freeland said.

“I want to say to President Zelenskyy that for as long as it takes, Canada will be there for Ukraine. Ukraine is fighting for its own democracy and freedom, but, also, for all the world’s democracies.”

Throughout the video address, Ukraine’s president reciprocated Freeland’s appreciation and solidarity. When asked what Canadian students should ask their political representatives to do to assist Ukraine, Zelenskyy talked warmly about his relationship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife but reminded the students that Ukraine continues to need “weapons, and financial and human support.”

President Zelenskyy is shown delivering a remote address to Canadian University students. (Image: CPAC)
President Zelenskyy delivering a remote address that was livestreamed to Canadian University students. (Image: CPAC)

“Sanction pressure, 24/7, I can’t say that often enough,” he added, urging the students to use their passion to pressure political leaders. “Go to rallies, support Ukraine and don’t let the government forget us,” Zelenskyy urged, noting that it was easy for those outside the country to get tired of the issue and forget the war.

Zelenskyy offered thanks for “so many warm words.”

He recounted a visit to Canada in 2019 for a conference addressing reform in Ukraine, noting, “Who could have thought there would be big reform in a different sense?”

Zelenskyy went on to say, “Three years ago, when I shared my vision, I cited your team, the Raptors who won when no one expected them to win, by uniting.” This is the path Ukraine today is following.

“There is an abyss between us and Russia in words and values,” Zelenskyy said. “We are fighting for our future, our freedom and our land. Our spirit and longing for freedom have not changed since the Second World War.

“We are fighting for the future of our children and our grandchildren. We have come together to do the impossible and we shall prevail against all odds. Thank you, Canada, for your support.”

Throughout the conversation, Zelenskyy emphasized the urgency of his country’s current situation, interspersed with moments of light, hope and even mirth. The first question posed by a student asked Zelenskyy about his role models, mentioning that he had been compared to everyone from Churchill to Harry Potter. Zelenskyy, who seemed to be very amused by this comparison, laughed and said, “Thank you for these kinds of comparisons. We know in this war, who is Harry Potter [the hero] and who is Voldemort [the villain] and how this will end.” He cited the people of Ukraine as his role models, since they have fought not to give away their freedom in unusual and extraordinary ways.

Another student asked Zelenskyy why he had sought the presidency.

“You will understand this when you have your own children and you look at them and understand that G-d and this unique country that you love have given you everything you dreamt about,” Zelenskyy said. “This country allowed me to achieve. I wanted to share my enthusiasm, experience, openness and time and give back to my country. The Ukrainian people have entrusted me with this and I am proud to be their president.”

York University students gather with York International staff following the moving address by the Ukrainian president
York University students gather with York International staff following the moving address by the Ukrainian president

Students watching Zelenskyy’s live stream in the Accolade East building on the Keele Campus were excited about the opportunity to hear him speak.

Alona Zavordohia, a graduating psychology student from Kyiv, was one of the eager attendees. “This was a great presentation,” she said. “For me, it proves the president cares about students and the country and it shows his pride and power as a leader. I am proud to have Zelenskyy as our leader. His support and eagerness to make the country better makes us stronger every day.”

Olga Andriyevska, a fourth-year PhD student in physics, is a Ukrainian-Canadian with family in Kyiv. “I came because I have been horribly disturbed by everything happening in Ukraine and these events are a way of connecting and helping me to feel better,” she said. “I have immense respect for President Zelenskyy as a person; he has inspired me and motivated me.”

She expressed appreciation for Zelenskyy’s speech because “it is a positive event and something I can grab onto.”

York has 75 undergraduate and nine graduate students with Ukrainian citizenship, according to 2021-22 data, and a number of students, staff and faculty who have roots and family in Ukraine; the University is doing its best to assist them during the war. They can access emergency bursaries, obtain prioritized appointments with international student advisors and immigration specialists and request tuition fee deferral. York International also offers check-ins and programs for both domestic and international Ukrainian students.

“This is something we’ve done for international students from other regions impacted by forced migration and we strive to continue to do so for international students in these situations worldwide,” said Woo Kim, director of international student and scholar services for York International.

Olha Fedoryk is an international student from western Ukraine, is focused on doing what she can by providing information on social media in English about events in Ukraine. “As President Zelenskyy said, we need media recognition and we’re fighting strongly on the internet front,” said the master’s degree student in physics. “As English-speaking Ukrainians, that is our priority. I don’t think the media here appreciate how extensive the Russian propaganda is.“

Zelenskyy also emphasized Fedoryk’s concerns. “Social media is a space that means opportunity to cut distances between countries and between governments and societies,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to share the truth. It’s a weapon to show that Ukraine has freedom of the press and freedom of thought.”

Your support

A diverse community of students, faculty and staff, has created the York Emergency Student Support Fund, which will provide essential financial support to those impacted by global conflicts and crises. University community members can help respond to the urgent needs of students from the Ukraine by donating to this fund. Each gift will help ensure at-risk and affected students can pursue or continue their education safely and with financial security.