Heard on Campus: Member of Ukraine’s parliament visits Penn State Behrend

A portrait of Oleksiy Goncharenko, a member of Ukraine's parliament

Oleksiy Goncharenko, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, visited Penn State Behrend on April 24. His visit was coordinated by the Public Policy Initiative.

Credit: Photo provided

ERIE, Pa. — “The war in Ukraine started not two years ago, but 10 years ago, with the annexation of Crimea,” said Oleksiy Goncharenko, a member of Ukraine’s parliament who visited Penn State Behrend on April 24 for a talk as a guest of the Public Policy Initiative. “That was a tragedy, but the international impact was limited. This war now is different. This time, the whole world is watching.

“When Russian tanks moved into Kyiv, the world said, ‘Kyiv will fall. Russia will take it,’” Goncharenko said at the event. “But we didn’t give up. We will never give up. For us, this fight is existential.”

Goncharenko was first elected to Ukraine’s parliament in 2014. He has served in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and is president of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.

The talk was moderated by Lena Surzhko Harned, associate teaching professor of political science and associate director of the Public Policy Initiative at Penn State Behrend.

On the day of Goncharenko's visit to Penn State Behrend, U.S. President Joe Biden signed a comprehensive war aid package that included $61 billion for Ukraine. The funding will provide air defense missiles, artillery, armored vehicles and anti-tank weapons, Goncharenko said.

“We need this support,” Goncharenko said. “Every day, my native city of Odesa is attacked by drones.”

The attacks are so routine, he said, they are shaping the way that an entire generation views the world.

“I have two sons,” he said. “The smaller boy is now 5. I was with him on the playground in Odesa. This was early in the war, on a weekend, and he was playing. He was maybe 4 years old then.

“Suddenly, there were explosions in the city,” he said. “My boy, he said to me, ‘Don’t worry. Those are ours.’ He knew the difference between incoming missiles and our defense systems, explained Goncharenko.

“He was so natural about it,” Goncharenko said. “So matter-of-fact. He was not overly afraid, because this, to him, is the world we live in. Tell me: What kind of world is that?”