Between Lviv and Lublin: A friendship forged at Notre Dame has helped sustain a Ukrainian family in wartime

Author: Gráinne McEvoy

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Svitlana Khyliuk crosses the border from Poland into Ukraine, laden with supplies and donations, in March 2022.

On the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Nanovic Institute is honored to share the story of two of our former visiting fellows. Svitlana Khyliuk, director of the Ukrainian Catholic University law school, and Magdalena Charzyńska-Wójcik, associate professor at John Paul II Catholic University in Lublin, met at Nanovic in the fall of 2021. Their home universities are both members of the Catholic Universities Partnership, an initiative led by the Nanovic Institute to foster mutual support, elevation, and development of Catholic higher education and civil society in post-communist and post-Soviet Europe.

Driving eastward in Ukraine, toward the air raid sirens that had started the day before, Svitlana Khyliuk made a call to Poland. On the other end, Magdalena Charzyńska-Wójcik listened as her friend retold the traumatic events of the past 24 hours. 

At around 10 a.m. that morning, Khyliuk had walked with her two young children across Ukraine’s western border into Poland. They were fleeing the advancing Russian forces that launched a full-scale invasion of their homeland the previous day, February 24, 2022. An existential threat confronted her family. Khyliuk and her husband, Oleksiy, had to make a heart-wrenching decision.

The family’s journey to Poland was exhausting, terrifying and traumatic. What would typically be a one-hour drive took 14. They drove as far west as they could before hitting gridlock from mass movement toward the border. Oleksiy, who would not and could not leave his country when it was under siege, remained with their car, watching his wife, daughter and son set off on foot into the cold February night.

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