Following Ukraine with Heavy Hearts

professor with ukraine flag added to image
David Gracon, as a Fulbright scholar in Ukraine

May 23, 2022
Sydney Bernardo ('22), Marketing & Communications

A Gonzaga University graduate and a current faculty member who both served in Ukraine are following the war with heavy hearts. 

Everyone Rebecca “Becca” Dunne (‘18) knows personally is safe for now. Having lived in Ukraine teaching for eight months English as a Peace Corps member, she struggles processing the images of the war. 

“Seeing images and video footage, for example, of the destruction in Irpin, the suburb outside of Kyiv where we first began our training in Ukraine as Peace Corps Volunteers, is surreal,” she said. 

According to Dunne, some Ukrainians have lost their jobs and students continue studying at home. Many support the war efforts. Men are drafted, trained and serve on the front-line. 

“... life is far from normal, and the people I communicate with are scared and distressed about the uncertainty of their future, their health and their safety,” Dunne said. 

Dunne’s host family said the entire country is absorbed in the conflict.  

"There is a war on the front line and a war on information. First of all, we would like to say that Ukrainians do not need to be ‘freed’ from the Kyiv regime. We are free people. We have the right to vote, the right to freedom of speech,” they said. 

Integrated Media Professor David Gracon worked as a Fulbright scholar for 10 months (2017-18) at Precarpathian National University in Ivano-Frankivsk. He taught media literacy workshops in Kyiv through the U.S. Embassy that trained Ukrainian professors. 

“Media literacy and training is really vital in Ukraine … they’re essentially bombarded by propaganda and fake information from the Russian government,” Gracon said. 

He didn’t expect Russia to attack. “It was profoundly shocking,” he said. He recalls the heartbreak over seeing the bombings and terrorizing of civilians, especially in the cities that he has grown to love. “There have been nights where I have nightmares about it,” Gracon said. 

Dunne’s host family reports the overwhelming number of citizen deaths. 

“It is especially troubling when you see children die before your eyes,” they said. 

“People are grieving and suffering immensely. The sound of sirens is the scariest sound. It is especially scary when they sound at night, causing panic to ensue and your whole life to flash before your eyes. You don't know if the defenders will be able to shoot the rockets down and so you can only pray and hope for the best. We never thought that we would fear the phrase ‘air raid siren’ and did not think we would feel such relief upon hearing the phrase, ‘air raid sirens have been canceled.’ Russia launches its rockets like birds that constantly ‘fly’ in the Ukrainian sky.” 

Gracon finds some solace in the heroic stories of everyday people taking up arms against their colonizing invaders. He remembers seeing a Ukranian wielding only a farm tractor steal a Russian tank. 

“I’m deeply impressed by the resilience of the Ukrainians to fight. I think they’re doing a tremendous job of defending their country with everything they’ve got,” he said. 

Gracon’s friends and former students have been relatively safe in western Ukraine. All have been aiding the war effort. One protected the city hall by creating a barricade out of sandbags. He’s seen several former students interviewed on national news sources. 

Gracon said that many Ukrainians wonder what Americans think of the war. He tells them that Americans are undivided and overwhelming in their support. 

“That really matters to Ukrainians. They really care that Americans support them … they’re underdogs, they’re a marginalized country,” he said 

Dunne asked that the Gonzaga community support Ukraine. She suggested the following actions: 

  • Write to representatives and senators asking for a no-fly zone over Ukraine 
  • Donate to organizations such as UNICEF, UN Crisis Relief or International Rescue Committee
  • Stay informed 

Dunne’s host family warns Americans for the future. 

They said, “this war is not only against Ukraine, but against the whole world. At the moment, Ukraine just happens to be the battlefield for war. If this does not stop right now, then crazy Putin can launch rockets at countries to the left and to the right of Ukraine. Lastly, we would of course like you to know that the Ukrainian people are so strong and unbreakable."