How Stanford Students Mobilized to Help Ukraine and Promote Dialogue About the Crisis

The Russian invasion prompted a flurry of humanitarian initiatives organized from a Stanford GSB residence.

March 17, 2022

| by Jenny Luna
Students work in a warehouse preparing medical supplies to send to Ukraine. Credit: photo courtesy Kate Slunkova

Students arranged to have 130 tons of supplies flown to Ukraine. | Courtesy of Kate Slunkova.

Every evening after class, Kate Slunkova, MBA ’22, heads to a conference room on the bottom floor of the student residences at Stanford Graduate School of Business. A large Ukrainian flag hangs in front of a flat-screen on the wall and a vase of perky sunflowers — the flower that’s a symbol of Ukraine’s resistance — sits on a table. Undergraduates and students from the medical school, the school of education, and Stanford GSB come and go. There are open laptops and take-out containers; lively discussions in person and on Zoom. This is Stanford’s unofficial “Ukrainian Coordination Hub.”

Two days after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Stanford MBAs set up the hub as a place for students across campus to brainstorm ways to help Ukraine, pool resources, and put ideas into action. Since then, they’ve launched a website with ways to help and a press center where students write op-eds and letters to legislators. They held a fundraiser that netted more than $120,000 and started a telehealth working group to develop ways to connect Ukrainians with medical care.

A photo of Hoover Tower lit with the Blue and Yellow colors of the Ukraine flag. | Credit: Photo courtesy Kate Slunkova.

Hoover Tower was lit with yellow and blue, colors of Ukraine’s flag, last Friday evening. | Courtesy of Kate Slunkova

But when students greet each other each evening, they don’t start with planning or logistics.

“We ask how each other is doing, first and foremost,” Slunkova says. “‘How is your mom? How is your family? Is everyone safe?’ These questions are essential.”

Slunkova, a fashion entrepreneur, is from Dnipro, in eastern Ukraine. Much of her family is still there. Taking action, she says, is her way to deal with the constant fear and anxiety about what is happening back home.

“Everyone is feeling engaged and wants to contribute to the broader mission. Stanford has taught us to do the same — to make sure whoever we are, we can question the status quo and question our zone of control,” she says.

With the hub as their headquarters, Slunkova and Josh Pickering, MD ’22, launched a project to get medical supplies to Ukrainian soldiers. Pickering, a Navy veteran and EMT, procured a cargo plane that can carry 130 tons. By tapping into their networks and collaborating with the campus Ukrainian Student Association, they were able to fill the plane with supplies. Pickering traveled to Ukraine on March 14 to help deliver them.

Dialogue and Reflection

Education and conversation have also been a large part of the students’ activism. Stanford GSB students organized a lunchtime discussion where Ukrainian and Russian classmates spoke and associate professor of political economy Katherine Casey moderated the discussion. Nearly 100 GSB students, many wearing yellow #StandWithUkraine stickers, gathered in a lecture hall, and an additional 130 joined via Zoom.

Olga Chumanskaya, MBA ’23, grew up in an industrial town in Russia, then attended university in Moscow, where she was politically active. At the panel, she highlighted events in Russian history and explained how the government’s oppression has led to a reliance on propaganda and revived Soviet nostalgia. Explaining this, she says, and showing others that not all Russians support the war, has given her a new sense of purpose.

“The fact that this dialogue was initiated by students, and that Russians were invited to participate, just shows the level of reflection at Stanford,” Chumanskaya says. “I discovered there is so much demand here to understand Russia. That gives me hope that I can offer something here in the U.S.”

Chumanskaya, whose background is in the automotive business, says Russia’s invasion and the student reaction to it have led her to rethink what she wants to do after her time at Stanford GSB. “This activism on campus helped me understand the value that I add, bringing this perspective. I will search for ways to dedicate part of my career to working in an NGO here and abroad. It can’t be only a corporate career for me anymore.”

Lessons Hit Close to Home

Professors have used issues related to the war in Ukraine, such as the implications of sanctions, to animate class discussions. “In classes, we’ve talked a lot about the hypotheticals: As a company, should you withdraw if you disagree with the government? Those discussions were so theoretical, but now it’s so real,” Chumanskaya says.

The fact that this dialogue was initiated by students, and that Russians were invited to participate, just shows the level of reflection at Stanford.
Olga Chumanskaya

For example, when Boeing suspended its contract to supply jetliners to Russia, Chumanskaya viewed the move not only through its political rationale, but the devastating effect it would have on her hometown, Berezniki, which had supplied the company with titanium for many years. “It does make me sad,” she says, “and I understand that the cause is so important; it feels like some kind of collateral damage.”

Professors have extended their support via weekend Zoom calls advising students on how to leverage their networks. “Professors are mentoring us in how to reach and talk to legislators and impact policymakers,” says Alex Gureev, MBA ’23.

Gureev, the son of a Ukrainian mother and Russian father, came to Stanford GSB in the fall of 2021. A software engineer, he leapt into action when he first read about the invasion in a WhatsApp group of Ukrainian students and alumni. He worked with undergraduate Ukrainian student Igor Barakaiev to build, launch, and promote a website that now has more than 120,000 unique visits; more than 300 volunteers have signed up to help.

“This is only the beginning,” Gureev says. “The war will end — I don’t know when — but we will have millions of refugees around the world. Ukraine is devastated, the country needs to be rebuilt. We will continue our support with all the connections we have here.”

Slunkova, Gureev, and Chumanskaya all talked about the strange reality of being on a sunny campus in California while updates on the military and humanitarian crisis flood in via the news and social media. The response from Stanford students from many disciplines and many nations, they say, demonstrates the power of community.

“It’s been delightful and empowering to be here,” Slunkova says. “I really wish the world operated the way Stanford operates,” Chumanskaya adds. “Where Europe, Russia, America, and other countries come together and talk and talk and talk and try to find solutions.”

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