Alumna speaks on Ukraine-Russia war


Anjali Reddy, Projects Editor

Cat Buchatskiy ’19 will never forget February 24. The day Russian President Vladimir Putin declared war on Ukraine, the international security student raised in Kyiv left Stanford for the Ukraine-Poland border. There, her family raised military equipment funds, and she worked on Ukrainian culture preservation. On March 17, The Vanguard interviewed Cat for her account of the war while she was at the border.


What was your reaction when you heard about the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

I remember the day very clearly. Putin declared war on February 24 in the early morning in Moscow, which means for me in California, it was February 23 at about 6:00 p.m. I was having dinner, and I knew that Putin was going to make an address to the Russian Federation at 6:45. There were rumors that there was going to be a declaration of war. I remember sitting in my dorm at Stanford thinking ‘I have about 45 minutes before my country goes to war. Maybe I should take a shower and get in bed now before everything happens.’ I just remember that little thought, which seems so silly in hindsight, but how can you

possibly prepare to go to war? I got into the shower, got dressed for bed, and thought, ‘I don’t know when the next time I’ll leave this bed is going to be.’ I put the live stream on at 6:45, and before long, [Putin] said the fateful words that he was organizing a special military operation into Ukraine to demilitarize and denazify the country. I didn’t finish watching the rest of the address because I just knew what that meant. I instantly called my mom. I was already crying at that point. She was already crying as well. ‘This can’t be real. This can’t be real.’ Before long, we [were] already getting reports that there [were] bombs dropping in Kyiv and all over Ukraine. I’ll always remember that day.


Describe the Ukraine-Poland border.

It’s strange to imagine that your family and your friends are now considered refugees. My cousin came in as a refugee to Poland. My friend’s mother came in. Before [the war], the status of refugee was something so abstract to me, and now I realize these are my family members. These are my friends. The Polish border and Poland in general has been amazing, incredibly helpful, and welcoming. At all the train stations, you see restaurants for families to rescue them when they come in. On a lot of pharmacies at the train stations and at the border, they have little donation boxes where Ukrainians can get free things like toothpaste and toothbrushes. There are Ukrainian flags everywhere. The whole city mobilized to help. At any restaurant that you go into, if you buy a meal, half of the price of your meal goes to paying for Ukrainians’ meals. Ukrainians, by showing their Ukrainian passport, get to ride the trains into Poland for free. It’s incredibly hard to see people that I know and love navigating this world, but I couldn’t be happier for the welcome that they’ve been getting in Poland.


What do you hope people outside of Ukraine understand about the war?
There are so many things that the West gets wrong about the war. There’s a deep misunderstanding that Ukraine and Russia are historically brothers of Slavic nations. I hear a lot of people saying, ‘if Ukrainians are so different, why do almost all Ukrainians speak Russian? Why do they have so many similar traditions, similar foods and things of that sort?’ [The war] was very much unprovoked, unnecessary, and completely unprecedented. We have never wanted to be a part of Russia. We’ve been fighting for independence for centuries. Just because we speak Russian does not mean that we are brothers. A lot of the West has been surprised at how well Ukraine has held up and has been surprised at the level of Ukrainian resistance. Of course, we were going to fight back. Why would we not? We’re being occupied by an aggressive power, who is committing a genocide against Ukrainians bombing our cities to the ground, and trying to overthrow a democratically elected president.


What is the best way for people to become informed about the evolving war and Ukrainian history?
It’s really important that you continue seeking out information about Ukraine even if the news cycle moves on. As of now, most of the news has still been revolving around Ukraine three weeks in, which is quite impressive considering the attention span of the news cycle. But I’m not optimistic about how much longer we’ll keep getting attention. It’s important for people to be proactive in seeking out information. I would recommend that they get sources from Ukrainians directly because there [has] always been a misunderstanding in the West about what Ukraine wants. My favorite newspaper, The Kyiv Independent, is an English language newspaper based out of Kyiv. I would also recommend following Ukrainian journalists and reporters that are on the ground doing amazing work. They’re doing work in English, so it should be easy for everyone [to] access here, no excuses.


Final Thoughts?
I’d like to talk directly to BB&N. Take a close look at your history curriculums, especially your Russian and Eastern European history curriculums. A lot of European history revolving Eastern Europe has been taught through the Russian Imperial lens. There’s very little recognition for the achievements in history of the independent states of Eastern Europe. Oftentimes, it’s all taught under the broad umbrella term of Russian history. That’s very dangerous because that’s exactly what brings up this historical misconception that these places are all a part of Russia, and they’re deeply interconnected. When you present Ukrainian history as a subset of Russian history, that’s exactly what emboldens Putin and emboldens Russian dictators to claim that Ukraine is a part of Russia.