The Cost of War Hits Close to Home for Carleton Students – by Matthew Selinger

Starting in the early morning of March 2, 2023, a travelling exhibit named “Unissued Diplomas” made its way to the Atrium of Nideyinàn (formerly the University Centre). Run by students from Ukraine and co-sponsored by the Ukrainian Canadian Students’ Union (SUSK), the project aims to draw global attention from students across approximately 70 universities worldwide. It highlights the stark differences between Carleton and Ukrainian students. Unlike facing the anxiety of rushing from the bus to class, Ukrainians run towards shelters away from incoming Russian artillery and missiles.

The venue served as a convenient place to capture the attention of passersby heading about the Carleton University campus. Andrii Bukvych, Ukraine’s Deputy Head of Mission to Canada, even arrived on campus to acknowledge the event. Three rows of stands displayed 36 stories of Ukrainian students who, due to the war, would never see their convocation day (hence “unissued diplomas”). Some were killed as frontline soldiers, having handed over their pencils for weapons in defence of their country. Others were ordinary civilians who got caught in the crosshairs of the invading Russian forces. The event’s conversation continued to a nearby room where scholars and students from Carleton and the broader Ottawa community discussed topics such as the humanitarian situation, fighting Russian propaganda, and how students could maintain Canada’s attention on the conflict. On March 22, three weeks after the event and subsequent dialogue took place, the exhibit reappeared near the MacOdrum Library entrance.

Bringing this exhibit to Carleton and other campuses increases the much-needed awareness of the human cost of the war. We recently marked the first—and hopefully last—anniversary of the Russian reinvasion of Ukraine. Naturally, thanks much to the fast-paced digital age in which we live, the longer this war rages on, people become detached, numb, and fatigued by a once-dominant current event. Recall how Ukraine fell off the radar after the Minsk negotiations in 2015. Even though the violence subsided, civilians and soldiers still perished in the Donbas. Global attention faded. There’s also the Syrian Civil War which, despite the heavy death toll of 500,000 civilians, is rarely a discussion point anymore. Same with the humanitarian situation in Venezuela or the insurgency in Mali. Events like “Unissued Diplomas,” however traumatic the content may be, still expose us to the real issues facing people in our world. To us, February 24, 2022, might be one year ago, but to Ukrainians, it is a daily reminder of the genuine threat facing themselves and their nation.

For this reason, we must continually remind ourselves of these crises and conflicts, or we risk losing the momentum to respond practically. “Unissued Diplomas” is one example of how we can keep the conversation going regarding the Russo-Ukrainian War. We owe it to ourselves as students and faculty to amplify the voices of those whose only dream was the go to university, gain wisdom, contribute to their community, and rebuild their country. Sadly, thousands of other killed Ukrainian students will not get that opportunity.

Matthew Selinger is a NPSIA MA candidate and Political Director of the Carleton Ukrainians executive team