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Ukranian Kseniia Shyp ’23 says keep pursuing your dream despite obstacles

Tom Coyne

Despite war at home, Shyp remains upbeat, hopeful

May 31, 2023

Culver Girls Academy student Kseniia Shyp ’23 is the embodiment of the resolve and hope of the people of Ukraine.

The 18-year-old senior hasn’t seen her family in nearly two years because of the Russian invasion and doesn’t know when she will be able to return to her hometown of Uzhgorod in western Ukraine, which borders Slovakia. Yet she remains upbeat, hopeful and she’s pursuing her dreams.

During a recent half-hour presentation about her country and culture to a crowd of about 50 students and Culver area residents in the Legion Memorial building (which can be seen here), , she showed a video of two teenage friends – a 19-year-old dancer named Roma Hutych who moved to Germany, and an 18-year-old singer named Yulia Vovkanets who lives in western Ukraine – and Shyp’s 15-year-old sister Veronika, who still lives at home. They are all still pursuing their own dreams despite the ongoing war.

“When the war happens, some people think that life stops. You can’t do anything. You don’t have facilities, you don’t have money, you don’t have time. You are scared. These three people are examples of no matter what is going on in your life, keep going and work on your dream,” she said.

She told the crowd the main thing is to never give up.

“I think Ukrainians are an example of no matter what is going on in your life – you can take a nap, you can cry, you can fail a bio test, it’s OK. It happens, right? But you still need to keep going and working hard. If you don’t give up, you’ll reach your dream despite anything that is going on,” she said.

Shyp was an outstanding student and was selected to be an exchange student as part of the Future Leaders Exchange Program, or FLEX, a merit-based scholarship program overseen by the U.S. State Department. The program gives students from countries that were once part of the former Soviet Union the chance to experience life in a democratic society to promote democratic values.

“I’ve been living my American dream,” Shyp said. “One of the terms of the program is to exchange Ukrainian ideas with American ideas. I’ve been doing this. I’ve really been enjoying my life here. I was doing new, different things. But then war broke out.”

She was living with her parents, who are both doctors, her sister and her now 10-year-old brother Daniel in Ukraine. She arrived in Rochester, Indiana, about 20 miles southeast of Culver in August 2021, to attend Rochester High School for a year, not knowing she’d stay so long. Culver Academies humanities instructor Laura Ricketts invited her to speak on campus last May after the invasion. That led to her being offered a scholarship to CGA.


Ksennia Shyp '23 gave a presentation about her native Ukraine at the Legion Memorial Building. (Photo by Andrew Crowell)

Jill Weaver, from the host family for Shyp, said she’s been amazed at how Shyp has coped with all that’s happened.

“She’s one who wants to seize the moment and wants to do a lot of things,” said Weaver, a music teacher at Rochester Community Schools.

Weaver said the day Russian troops invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, was overwhelming.

“There’s hardly words to describe the shock that was there,” Weaver said. “She’s lost some very good friends, one in particular that was crushing. But she bounces back. We had this talk that maybe God has her here at such a time as this that she can do more for her country here in the United States. She sees that.”

Shyp has helped raise money for Lifesong, which helps orphans in Ukraine.

Weaver and her husband, Tom, who is a farmer, have hosted numerous exchange students over the year. She also did mission work in Belarus for two summers.

“We fell in love with people from that part of the world. There’s something about them that, despite their circumstances, they smile and they seize the day. And they help each other out,” Weaver said.

Shyp started her presentation with a video showing the destruction done in Ukraine by Russian forces, accompanied by a defiant song in Ukranian. One of the pictures was of a colossal cargo plane called Mrija, or “The Dream,” that was destroyed in the opening days of the war.

Ukraine leaders have vowed to rebuild the crashed plane, which was the heaviest airplane ever.

“It has symbolic meaning for Ukrainians,” Shyp said. “Even though physically The Dream has been crushed, Ukrainians still carried on. Their dreams are still with them in their hearts.”

She told attendees about where Ukraine is, bordering Russia, Belarus, Moldova, and Poland, with access to the Black Sea and the Bay of Azov. She also told them that while most people became aware of the war when Russia invaded last year, it actually began in February 2014 when Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

She described former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych as a puppet of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Yanukovych was on the verge of signing a trade deal with the European Union in 2013 when he reneged under pressure from Putin. He was ousted shortly afterward and Putin seized Crimea.

“It shows Ukraine has a history when it was kind of corrupt,” she said. “Then people started gathering to rebel and say what they want.”

She talked about a protest in Kyiv’s Majdan Square on Feb. 20, 2014, which became known as the Revolution of Dignity, when dozens of protesters were killed. She said Yanukovych “betrayed Ukraine” and fled to Russia.

“Putin, the Russian president, used it as an excuse to invade Crimea, saying he wants to bring peace and he wants to bring control,” he said.

She said it was a time of a “cold war” between Ukraine and Russia. She said things started changing when Volodymyr Zelenskyy became president. Before that, Zelenskyy was a comedian who starred on a TV show called “Servant of the People.” The show was about an affable young history teacher who was elected president after a student filmed his profanity-filled rant against government corruption.

“It became reality, and he became president,” she said.

She said he’s a man who fulfills his promises.

“I think the fact he has never studied politics in school and he hasn’t been in politics before he became president is the key to his success because he wasn’t spoiled by all the influences that some politicians might be influenced by,” Shyp said.

She said polls show Zelenskyy is overwhelmingly popular among Ukrainians.

Shyp said she believes Putin wants to take over Ukraine in the first step of trying to rebuild the former Soviet Union so he can have more power.

“I think he wants to imprint himself into history,” she said. “He has already done so, but not in the way that maybe he thought of doing.”

Shyp isn’t sure what’s next, other than she plans to spend the next year working as an intern for FLEX, working with those who select which students will take part in the exchange program.

“I’m going with the flow,” she said. “There are a lot of opportunities open to me right now. I don’t want to stick to one thing. I’m going to spend the next year exploring new things.”

Shyp also told those at her presentation that she knows who can solve the problems Ukraine is facing.

“I came up with the solution and it is we,” she said. “It can be entrepreneurs, iPad kids, perfectionist, orange chicken day fans, athletes, nap takers, everyone here are the people that can make changes.”

Kseniia Shyp was a member of the Culver Girls Academy softball team. (Photo by Ken Voreis)


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