The McMaster Ukrainian Student Association on community support and how war permeates the personal lives of Ukrainian students
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, each Ukrainian student at McMaster is filled to the brim with emotion, yet the pain they experience is not theirs alone, but that of an entire community that stretches within and far beyond the walls of McMaster. Having continuously been exposed to a string of disheartening news and images of their homeland ravaged, it is no surprise that these students are finding it difficult to focus on their academic obligations.
Aleksa Gobosz is a third-year honours biology student and Larisa Hemon is a third-year honours life sciences student. Alongside participating in Ukrainian cultural activities for over 10 years and representing Ukrainian interests nationally, the two vice-presidents of fundraising for the McMaster Ukrainian Student Association are tirelessly dedicating themselves to the Ukrainian cause at great personal cost.
“We are a patriotic country and people. Not only are we a part of MUSA, but we do Ukrainian dance, Ukrainian Saturday school, we play national instruments [and] we actively participate in the Ukrainian church. People may think that because we are Ukrainians, we are bringing this issue to the forefront now. However, that is not true at all. We are deeply invested in our culture and always have been. It is integrated into every facet of our lives,” said Gobosz.
Despite the countless years students like Gobosz and Hemon have dedicated to their cultural communities, they face assumptions that as Ukrainian-Canadians who were born in Canada, the war bears negligible impact on their personal lives. McMaster is a multicultural environment with a sizable portion of its student body comprised of the children of immigrants. However, the impact of unique cultural positionalities and their subsequent impacts during crisis on individuals’ lives are not taken into consideration.
“[P]eople think [because] it’s a war thousands of kilometers away, it is not affecting us. That is far from true as it is affecting us daily. We speak Ukrainian at home, we are part of Ukrainian organizations, we are part of Ukrainian dance groups and have many Ukrainian friends. Our families are Ukrainian. This war is the only thing being spoken about in our communities,” explained Hemon.
Amidst the turmoil that war brings, Ukrainian students are further burdened with knowing that their family and friends are caught in the crossfire with no way out. Hemon and Gobosz shared that many Ukrainian students are in constant communication with their loved ones in Ukraine during and in between classes and throughout much of their day-to-day life.
Many professors of different courses at McMaster have taken the time to post messages with resources for students to access. However, Hemon and Gobosz expressed that leniency from professors and departments affording Ukrainian students with academic accommodations would serve to be a major step towards alleviating much of the mental health decline of Ukrainian students during this time.
“To make the process of attaining academic accommodations less stressful, it would be nice if more profs were able to put out messages acknowledging they understand what a challenging time this is for our community and to make it clearer that accommodation is a possibility. Leniency with deadlines, some extra time for tests and such things are all we are asking for to be able to support our mental health at least in terms of school as we get through this crisis,” explained Gobosz.
While communication is possible through countless different apps, so is exposure to devastation. MUSA members struggled with the aftermath of the longer times spent on social media raising awareness and passing on information about donations and support for relevant organizations. Many MUSA members and Ukrainian students tried to take breaks from going on social media to avoid the continuous flooding of disheartening news. With MUSA’s page and Ukrainian students’ pages having hundreds of other Ukrainian mutuals and friends, all stories, posts and content being shared in these spheres have to do with the conflict and its effects.
“The average person on campus might only see one or two Ukraine posts here and there but for me it is over 100 stories just about Ukraine. I’ll sit there for three hours scrolling and crying because I can’t turn away from the pain they are feeling. I try to avoid going on social media, but that’s the only place where resources from McMaster are coming from at all about how they can help. That’s why posters and QR codes across campus would be so helpful to give attention to those resources in other ways,” explained Hemon.
Moreover, seeking appropriate mental health support through services such as the Student Wellness Centre or the Student Assistant Plan has been a barrier in and of itself. Despite recently dedicating over $800,000 in funding for displaced students, McMaster does not have culturally sensitive crisis management plans in place that are equipped to deal with the unique mental health struggles that arise for students due to ever-evolving global circumstances.
“It’s hard for us to approach the SWC because it’s somebody who is sitting there and telling us ‘it is going to be okay.’ They would just tell us to find distractions. My friends are my distractions. But who are my friends? My friends are Ukrainians who are also struggling. We are all in this bubble of just worrying and that’s the whole barrier,” said Gobosz.
It is evident that beyond help with direct individual arrangements such as academic accommodations, Ukrainian students are asking for mental health supports so they can better support their families, community and country. The individual mental health of Ukrainian students is fundamentally tied to that of their communities and cannot be addressed until action is taken to a greater extent to provide systemic aid to the existing Ukrainian student body.
“Right now, the best way to help our mental state is letting us know that action is actively being taken to support Ukraine and the needs of Ukrainian students. We ourselves will feel better eventually, but we simply cannot sit still right now while Ukraine is hurting. Every part of our life is directly hurting as a result. No matter your background, we ask for the solidarity of other communities with Ukraine and we ask for you to pray for us and stay informed,” said Gobosz and Hemon.
By Sarah Homsi, Contributor
As vibrant, red poppies take residence on jackets and over people’s hearts, they act as a solemn symbol to remind us of those who have fallen during times of war.
This year, the lead up to Remembrance Day feels different. My various social media platforms have been overwhelmed with people disputing the rainbow poppy. Some are seething over its alleged disrespect to the symbolic and traditional red poppy, as they believe that breaking the tradition of having a red poppy, which represents remembrance and peace, will dishonour our veterans. Meanwhile, others are applauding its inclusion of a historically persecuted group, because it recognizes the 2SLGBTQ+ veterans that have fought for us. The Internet has not been this divided since the white/gold versus blue/black dress fiasco of 2016. As is the case for most viral internet debates, misinformation is being spread.
Never seen something so disrespectful in all my days, What does LGBTQ have to do with the war? Red represents Blood, Black represents widows and loved ones, Green represents land the blood was spilled on.
NEVER change the poppy. What right do you have?
Fuck your Rainbow Poppy. pic.twitter.com/TKwYrOgtFX
— Brooke💋 (@BrookeCutler_) November 3, 2019
The heteros are cool with white poppies for peace and purple poppies for animals but god forbid there’s one rainbow poppy in honour of the lgbt soldiers that died for this country. Smells like homophobia to me
— ☽◯☾ (@horrorwIw) November 4, 2019
Images can often convey news faster than words. The image of the rainbow poppy that has been circulating online, a grainy yet colourful enamel pin on a black background, was taken from a UK-based seller’s eBay page. This seller has been selling the item for many years but has since taken it down due to the controversy.
As many of us have borne witness to people getting in heated debates over the rainbow poppy, ask yourself if you have actually seen anyone donning it. While people have been fervently accusing members of the 2SLBGTQ+ community of pushing the “gay” agenda, it should be noted that the rainbow poppy was never part of any sort of campaign from members of this community. Rather, it was something being sold on eBay that Twitter discovered, which resulted in arguments on what is the most appropriate way to honour our veterans.
Regardless of whether or not the rainbow poppy was put forward to be distributed and worn in November — even though they were not made with the intention of being widely distributed and worn — one cannot ignore the hate that was spread as a result of this dispute. Those adamantly opposed to the rainbow poppy seem to be using it as an opportunity to condemn the 2SLGBTQ+ community, promoting a fictitious narrative that there was actually a plan to make rainbow poppies a mainstay.
Apparently, anything other than a red poppy is disrespectful to some, despite the existence of purple, white and black poppies, all holding a different meaning. Those arguing against red poppies are implying that representation has no place when we honour those who have fought. A lot of the arguments made against the rainbow poppy were instances of homophobia, masked under the guise of saying these arguments were intended to respect the vets. Some people have made it very clear that they can pick and choose which lives to honour, and which to not.
Whether or not you support the existence of a rainbow poppy, we should all take the time to reflect on why we remember, as well as refrain from propagating hate rooted in baseless claims. Remembrance Day is about remembering those who risked their lives for our country, but we must also remember the groups our history textbooks often don’t cover. Their lives have just as much meaning. Additionally, we should all reflect on how quickly we share random images on social media without giving them a second thought.
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By: Michael Klimuntowski
The Royal Canadian Legion’s national poppy campaign begins every year on the last Friday of October and goes on to Nov. 11. I implore the McMaster community to wear the poppy on their left breast, just above our hearts.
Over the years there have been efforts championed by groups such as the Rideau Institute and campus clubs across Ontario that seek to provide what they portray as an alternative to the red poppy. These groups claim these white pacifist poppies signify peace and do not glorify war.
This campaign is reprehensible for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the white poppy campaign takes away resources and the focus from the Legion. The proceeds from the red poppy campaign go to help veterans and their families with the costs of food, medicine, heating costs, home repairs, transportation and valuable community services. When you buy a red poppy, you are helping the Legion care for the legacy of the veterans and those who have fallen on hard times. These few days before Remembrance Day are when the Legion is best able to reach the most number of people in order to help Canadian veterans and their families.
Secondly, the advocates of the white poppy campaign have distorted the meaning of the red poppy. Last year over 18 million Canadians wore a poppy to honour the hundreds of thousands who perished in conflicts that have defined our history. It has been remarked by historians that it was at Vimy Ridge when Canada was born as a nation. It was the first time all four divisions of the Canadian military collaborated and defeated the German Army without subordination to British Command. Canadians fought valiantly during the Second World War at the Battle of Normandy, liberating Belgium and the Netherlands with countless acts of heroism. In Korea, the Balkans, Afghanistan and other global hotspots Canadians responded to the challenges thrust upon the global community. Those who cannot see the heroism of such sacrifices don’t know where to look. The lives and actions of the Victoria Cross recipients, distinguished soldiers and those who paid the ultimate price are testament to the contrary.
The poppy is the internationally recognized symbol of Remembrance. Its symbolism has been immortalized by Canada’s Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. In Flanders Fields, McCrae’s final stanza describes the shared responsibility that towers over us:
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
In remembering the human casualties, we do not glorify war. We commemorate the sacrifice of those who participated. No one who wears the poppy supports war over peace — this is a false dichotomy. There are times in the affairs of nations when war is justified, when the terms of peace are egregious, and the price is one we are not willing to pay.
The pacifist poppy smears our veterans; those from conflicts long ago and as recently as military action in Afghanistan. It attempts to make a political debate out of a simple act of commemoration and sign of respect. The question begs to be asked — is nothing sacred?
One of the tensest moments of my first year at McMaster didn’t happen when I was writing exams, or fighting with my roommate, or handing in a late assignment. It happened on Nov. 11 when I was sitting in the basement lecture hall of Togo Salmon.
The professor was lecturing straight through the 10:30 a.m. class. When 11:00 a.m. rolled around, the time traditionally reserved as a minute of silence in respect for those affected by war – through combat or collateral, a student raised her hand. “Shouldn’t we stop lecture for a minute right now?” she said, and outlined her case: that would be the most respectful thing to do.
There was a long, awkward silence. Then, the professor said no. I don’t remember her reason; it was long and convoluted, and very passionately against recognizing the moment. But then the student argued back, and more students jumped in, until finally, several minutes past the 11:00 a.m. mark, the room lapsed into 60 seconds of awkward silence.
While that particular minute was spent more in embarrassed quiet for the uncomfortable circumstances than in thoughtful contemplation, it has come back to me every November since, as I dwell on war and peace, Remembrance Day, poppies, and everything this time represents.
The squabbles of that morning seem petty in comparison to what it was viagra jelly like to be on campus in the war-torn days of yesteryear.
There was a time on McMaster’s campus when the impact of war was not a once-a-November focus, but rather a daily occurrence. Old Sil headlines from World War II call for blood donors during a European shortage. In desperation, they appealed to women to donate, as men were traditionally the exclusive donor group.
One front-page article from Nov. 3, 1944 warned that the military status of all male students would now be checked, and “every student must have on his person at all times either a postponement, a discharge, or a rejection paper.” If it was found that any men were “unable to produce these necessary qualifications, their names will be turned in to N.M.R.A. immediately. Within a few days they will receive their military call-up.” (The N.M.R.A. was the National Resources Mobilization Act, which recorded and policed conscripted Canadians for military service at home and abroad.)
The paper from that time period is also peppered with lists of fallen alumni and students. It serves as a sombre reminder for all we take for granted today as students.
For the first time in several years, I’ll be in a position to actually attend a Remembrance Day morning ceremony. But if you’re in lecture (and whether or not your professor pauses), at work, at home or elsewhere, I still encourage you to stop what you’re doing for a moment. Not to glorify war but to be thankful for all that we have today, the people we owe that to, and what we want tomorrow to be.
Kacper Niburski / Silhouette Staff
If I was from another planet and I was visiting Earth, I’d enter the atmosphere with a wide smile. From afar, the planet would be a beautiful blend of blue, white and green. Almost nothing would be known about the little speck besides the occasional tap-dancing tune being picked up on the radio. Though brief, they’d be nearly perfect.
Some songs would be so heavenly that they’d practically be proof of divinity itself. As I’d prepare to land my spacecraft, I’d hum them. “Diddly doo, dilly da, all you need is love, diddly doo…” Besides my guttural hymns, the planet would appear almost peaceful behind the celestial firework show around it.
If I were from another planet, I’d be greeted with fear and ignorance rather than joy and happiness.
My welcoming party would take the form of ballistic missiles and nations far and wide, from big brother Russia to misnomer Papa New Guinea.
They would join hands against me like I was a houseguest who had forgotten to take off his shoes at the door. I wouldn’t even have time to explain to them that with all my tentacles, I didn’t even wear shoes.
If I were from another planet, I’d learn that many members of this seemingly barbarous species didn’t wear shoes either.
Something called money was to blame. I’d learn more too: the species inhabiting this planetary gem with music so powerful that even God would brag about it were more or less meat wagons, a squishy mass of giblets and organs that jiggled around like pocket change. They’d be animals that could think and laugh and compose great works, but they’d be animals nonetheless. They fought. They argued. They fought again. That was their history, and for some reason, they were proud of it.
If I were from another planet, I’d be jailed. In a high security prison, I’d be told that I needed a pilot’s permit to fly around the Earth’s stratosphere.
I’d tell them I didn’t know I needed one. They would reply that no one ever does – that’s how this whole thing works. I’d say which thing. They’d say that they didn’t know.
If I were from another planet, I’d learn that this species did know some things, however. They knew that the Earth was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. For some, that was already too much information to handle. They’d complain, “Oh, this winter is too hot” or “This summer is too cold” and so on.
If I was from another planet, I’d figure out that despite thousands of years of evolution, humanity was still fighting World War X. Everyone was against everyone else. Natural selection, they’d say.
If I were from another planet, I’d spend much of my time looking for the Earth’s borders. Many would point me towards a library full of dusty maps in order to show me the points at which pride met hard-fought glory. Every man, woman and child, every king and peasant, every prophet and follower, every father and every son, all the wars that had been fought, lost and forgotten, all the bloodshed, all the stories of happiness, sadness and loss, that night in Paris, that day in Monaco – they were all contained within these patrolled borders. They were the bindings of a book only humankind knew.
If I were from another planet, I’d listen and nod to their tale. Sometimes, I’d even laugh.
Then, I’d tell them that from above, the Earth was all one big, unified landmass. And when one wasn’t knee deep in the Milky Way, the Earth was just a small crumb in a big, black bowl of cereal. It wasn’t even healthy to eat, I’d say.
If I were from another planet, I’d sift through the hokum. No political party would win in my favour. No ideology would seem better than any other. Instead, I’d say that on Juhani, the planet I was from, there were only two kinds of political platforms: winning and losing. Everyone would fit into one or the other eventually.
If I were from another planet, I’d learn of great scientists and thinkers and the aggregate of a species’ progress. I’d learn of Newton, Fermat and Einstein. I’d be baffled by their genius and sheer persistence.
And I’d try to do my part to advance humanity’s scientific theory by passing on my own E=MC2. It’d go like this: love always.
If I was from another planet and I was visiting Earth, I would be distrustful of a species whose alert, hesitant smile had seen it all: war and peace, depression and happiness, poverty and wealth, starvation and gluttony, regression and progression, death and birth. I would walk in their shoes – as they’d say – and wonder how many steps it would take until they realized that just because they could read and write, add and subtract, they didn’t have claim over this planet any more than the cockroaches. If anything, those bugs had more of one – they were around longer.
If I were from another planet, I’d remind Earthlings that they weren’t better than the immaterial mass, the lifeless cosmic stew, sifting around them either. They were simply part of it. They were the stuffing of stars.
And if I was from another planet, I wouldn’t want to come back.
McMaster’s Muslims for Peace and Justice held a teach-in on Nov. 8 about how the Canadian government has neglected the rights of its Muslim citizens.
The overall focus of the evening was on the “extraordinary rendition” policy and the use of torture on Canadian citizens accused of involvement in terrorism. Extraordinary rendition is the policy of transferring people from one country to another without the approval of any legal authority.
The event featured Abdullah Almalki and Ahmed El maati, two Canadian citizens who, in the early 2000s, were wrongly connected with terrorist activity by the RCMP after the 9/11 attacks.
During the discussion, Almalki and his legal representative Phil Tunley spoke about the various struggles that Almalki had to face during and immediately after his arrest. Tunley first discussed the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other various legal documents in the context of how they related to the rights of Mr. Almalki under his circumstances.
Upon Almalki’s arrival to Syria in 2002, he was detained and arrested by Syrian officials based on information sent directly from the Canadian government. Following the incident, Almalki remained in a Syrian jail for nearly two years.
When Almalki was brought up to speak, he presented a detailed account of his mistreatment at the hands of the Syrians, perpetuated by the Canadian government.
Almalki emphasized his abuse at the hands of the Canadian government by presenting a quote from the RCMP and the Canadian Security and Intelligence service (CSIS), which stated that, “it was not the responsibility of intelligence or law enforcement officials to be concerned about the human rights of a Canadian detainee.”
Almalki explained how, at one point, he was abruptly slapped in the face by one of his interrogators. He explained, “the physical pain has by now gone away, but the humiliation I felt at that moment is still with me.”
During the question-and-answer period, students actively voiced their opinions on the issue. Many deeply sympathized with the hardships that Almalki was forced to endure and others stated how inspired they were to engage in their community through social activism.
The focus was particularly on the role that the Canadian government had to play in this issue. In need of sufficient grounds to jail Almalki in Canada, the government believed that torture in Syria would be an appropriate way to extract the necessary information. As a result, the ensuing discussion also focused on how it is the responsibility of Canadian citizens to recognize these injustices and mobilize against them.
One of the notable attendees to the teach-in was Ken Stone, the treasurer of the Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War and also a McMaster alumnus. “If we want to stop these abuses like torture, the killing of prisoners and rapes of women, we really need to put pressure on our Canadian government not to get involved in these wars,” said Stone.
By the end of the night, it was clear the speakers had hit a nerve in those who had attended as they displayed gratitude for the speakers.
Around 60 Hamiltonians responded to the call for demonstrations made by the Canadian Peace Alliance against the possibility of war on Syria and Iran. Among those present at the rally on Saturday Oct. 6 were McMaster students and alumni, members of Hamilton’s Turkish community, labour unions, anti-poverty activists and many others.
The downtown Hamilton demonstration was organized by the Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War (HCSW) and occurred in front of the Federal Building on Bay Street. HCSW organized the demonstration to voice Hamilton’s opposition to the possibility of war and called on the Harper Government to be a “partner in peace” and to “re-establish diplomatic ties with Iran and end the sanctions.”
The demonstrations come after the Conservative government severed all diplomatic ties with Iran in early September and is taking a more aggressive tone towards Syria. Demonstrations also took places across the country, with sizable contingents in Toronto, Halifax, Vancouver, Edmonton and Winnipeg.
Across the world there have been demonstrations against further foreign intervention, including tens of thousands who marched in Istanbul, Turkey, where the government has been sabre-rattling for war.
In Hamilton, the weather at the rally was somewhat cold and windy, but it did not stop the demonstration from being lively. Placards against war and the Harper government were plentiful. The demonstrators chanted and walked a picket line in front of a banner which said “No War” in both Turkish and English. Someone even chalked the sidewalk in front of the Federal building with the words “Harper is a Murderer” and drew droplets of blood next to the words
The past several years have seen the Conservative government adopt a more aggressive stance in handling its foreign affairs. This sentiment was reflected at the protests, with many demonstrators shouting that Stephen Harper is a “war monger.”
McMaster labour studies student Dave Bush was among those in attendance.
Bush said, “Students should be concerned because all the money and rhetoric being spent on war is a political choice and could be better spent on things that matter to students and working people.”
Canada is currently is engaged in the occupation of Afghanistan which is now in its eleventh year.
Over the last year, the Canadian Military engaged in bombing campaigns of Libya and imposed sanctions on both Syria and Iran. UN Chief Ban Ki-Moon has criticized the sanctions on Iran, arguing that such sanctions have caused significant harm to the civilian population, citing medical and food shortages as concerns.
Many parallels were brought up at the rally to the similarity of the dialogue given for justification for the invasion of Iraq.
Kevin McKay, a professor at Mohawk College, spoke to the demonstrators. He recalled that when he “spoke to students about how the war in Iraq was a cheap resource grab in 2003. At the time, many responded, ‘you must be supporting Saddam Hussein.’ It is evident now that it was [a resource grab].”
He added, “Syrian problems need to be solved by Syrians, not foreign intervention.”
Others, such as McMaster alumnus Brendan Stone, stated that the conflicts are about “control and economic dominance, otherwise known as imperialism.”
Prominent members of the Hamilton labour movement spoke, including Rolf Gerstenberger, President of Steelworkers local 1005, who said his union would join the struggle “to build in an anti-war government.” Bill Mahoney, known for being Hamilton’s “working-class poet,” was also in attendance and recited two of his poems.
Reverend Diane Blanchard spoke on behalf of the United Church of Canada and called for dialogue in Syria. She stated that the United Church and its partner in the region, the Middle-East Council of Churches, are staunchly against military intervention.
The Saturday afternoon rally was endorsed by McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice, the Political Action Committee of CUPE 3906 and Independent Jewish Voices.