War: From Ukrainian MBAs, Harrowing Stories & Vows Of Support For A Homeland Under Attack

Julia Nechaieva

Julia Nechaieva, in yellow jacket, a former Haas School of Business MBA, protested alongside several hundred fellow Ukrainians on February 24 outside the San Francisco City Hall. Photo courtesy of Julia Nechaieva

While much of North America and the West woke up February 24 to work emails or class assignments, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians living abroad awoke to messages from family and friends in their home country who were huddled in bomb shelters or basements, listening to air raid sirens, trying to stay safe amid sudden war.

On Friday, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine entered its second day, Poets&Quants reached out to dozens of current and former Ukrainian business school students, many now working around the world. We wanted to hear their reactions, fears, and hopes, as well as what it’s like to watch from afar during an unprecedented attack on their native land.

Most importantly, what could their friends, colleagues, and fellow MBAs do to stand with them?


Most of those who responded urged onlookers to pay attention, show support via social media or by reaching out directly, and advocate for stronger support from their own governments. Several also offered links to verified support organizations working in Ukraine to aid children, families, and others impacted by the war.

“How can you help Ukraine?” asks Oleksiy Rachok, an INSEAD MBA from the class of 2010. “My answer is at least three-fold: (1) Donate money to support Ukrainian military and self-defense forces as they need supplies, medicine and weapons. (2) convince your governments and political parties to take a HARD line against Putin’s regime. And (3) keep supporting Ukraine and Ukrainians in social media and real life. We cannot afford losing interest for this war, even as it will become less intense. Glory to Ukraine and Ukrainians!”

You can find a list of Ukrainian nonprofits helping with relief efforts here. The National Bank of Ukraine has also opened a special account to raise money for Ukraine’s Armed Forces, and you can donate here. On Facebook, a fundraiser titled “MBAs Donate to Ukraine” had raised about $30,000 toward a $50,000 goal by Tuesday (March 1) thanks to donations by 340 people. It is organized by Sergey Krasovski, an MBA candidate at Dartmouth Tuck.

Below, you find the responses of more than a dozen Ukrainian MBAs who responded to our inquiry. They are presented in their own words, edited for length and clarity.

Valentine Zadorin
UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business
Technology Investment Banking at Barclays Investment Bank

Valentine Zadorin

Yesterday, at 4am in the morning, Russia started shelling the country of Ukraine from east to west including my hometown of Odessa. My mother woke up from the sounds of explosions. My 79-years old grandmother had to sleep on the floor because of the bombings. Many civilians have lost their lives over these two horrible days. I do not wish anyone to experience what Ukrainians are living through today and the deepest despair from injustice of this meaningless unprovoked attack.

The Ukrainian nation is as united as ever so my appeal goes to international friends and Russians.
Dear international friends, Ukraine has been continually sneakily attacked over the last 8 years because of our commitment to the democratic and European way of development, but today the Russian regime threw off all the masks.

We demand decisive action from #NATO and #EU to restore peace in the middle of Europe.

  • Introduce a no fly zone over Ukraine. Stop the shellings of Ukrainian civilians by Russian military aircraft.
  • Cut Russia off SWIFT. Europe can live without Russian oil & gas at the price of temporary discomfort but Russia can’t continue wreaking havoc and kill innocent people without European funds.
  • Please help Ukraine with military and humanitarian aid. Send donations to Ukraine. Ukrainians are fighting on behalf of the entire free world right now.

If you sacrifice Ukraine now, the war will continue. Today, Russian officials warned Finland from joining NATO. I leave it to your imagination what might happen next. As a big bully, Russian regime will demand more until they turn the world into turmoil. International community should show aggressive authoritarian regimes that it has the power and the unity to stop wars of aggression.

Lastly, I would like to address arguments used inside and outside of Russia to justify this meaningless bloodshed.
As Hitler accused the Polish government of oppression of ethnic Germans to justify the invasion, the same way propaganda tells Russians about horrible nationalists in Ukraine. That is simply not true. My family and I have been speaking Russian in Ukraine my whole life and continued to do so even after 2014.

Ambitions of Vladimir Putin to turn post-Soviet space into a collection of quasi-autonomous puppet states encountered an obstacle in the face of freedom-loving Ukrainian people. That is true. We are not the same country and we don’t want to be. We do not want to go in the direction Russia is going, which is something I’m certain most of you will agree with me on. We just want to build a prosperous country on our land. That’s our only guilt.

While it’s difficult and scary to go against the current police state that Russia has become, I urge Russians to be brave and free in their mindset. Listen to your hearts and deny the government’s propaganda. Then, you will be just one step away from throwing off the corrupt and murderous regime.

Julia Nechaieva
MBA ‘18, UC Berkeley Haas School of Business
Director of Project Management, Twitch

It is a real war happening in Ukraine right now. My mom and family are in Kharkiv, on the border with Russia. They hear explosions and shots, they can feel windows trembling. Local physics university building is damaged, there are unexploded Russian rockets sticking out of the ground where I used to go to school when I was a kid. My family won’t go to a bomb shelter–my grandma can’t walk. Our neighbors are hiding in the basement of a local kindergarten, subway stations are full of people.

Julia Nechaieva

I’m constantly chatting with my mom on Telegram. It helps us both stay sane and know that the Internet connection is still there. There are no more emotions from her side, only dry phrases like “I’ll go to sleep while it’s quiet” and “I protected the windows to avoid getting hurt by glass if it breaks from an explosion.”

My close friend’s family is in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. They see rockets flying, the horizon is lightened up with fire. Last night, they got to a subway station that serves as a shelter 30 minutes before an attack from the air. They later saw videos of Russian army machines moving through the area where they live.

I am lucky to have a network of Ukrainian friends in San Francisco. We are devastated, and feel a mix of helplessness, tremendous desire for this to stop, a strong sense of unity, and confusion of how this can happen in the 21st century. Yesterday, several hundred Ukrainians gathered next to the San Francisco City Hall. We see American cities lighting up buildings in Blue and Yellow, colors of the Ukrainian flag, and it gives us hope that the world sees.

I don’t know what the right reaction from the US should be, I’m not the politician. There are people whose job it is to decide, but I want Americans to know that they can help by calling, writing, and reiterating to their representative that it is very serious, people are getting hurt and there is no sign that it will stop. MBA students, reach out to your Ukrainian classmates, show support and ask them how you can help. Reach out to your Ukrainian co-workers, encourage them to take all the time they need to be with their families even if it is remote. If you have friends in the local media, ask them to come to gatherings of Ukrainians.

Mike Matkovskyi
MBA ‘19, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business
Senior Financial Analyst, AWS Game Tech

The Russian army is invading Ukraine to gain control over the territory of eastern and southern Ukraine to have direct land access to Transnistria and Crimea. I feel frightened. This is exactly what happened to Czechoslovakia in 1938 and the history is repeating itself. Russians will not stop until Ukraine is fully occupied. Unfortunately, EU and NATO will not support Ukraine with weapons (no guarantees as of now) and the only hope is that the Ukrainian army is able to protect the country.

Mike Matkovskyi

I feel like in the next week or so, if there is no cease fire, this conflict will last for years with occupation, constant clashes and thousands of civil casualties. If the conflict continues, there will be millions of people displaced for a long period of time.

Of course, I am frightened and anxious about the situation. I have lots of friends in Ukraine and my mom is in Kyiv. I feel like the western world should be more proactive at helping the Ukrainian army. Otherwise, about 40-50% of Ukraine will be occupied in the first year of conflict. Russia will be able to sustain this war campaign for a long period of time, so this conflict will not end soon.

I am in constant contact with my mom. She is very frightened and I am trying to understand how I can evacuate her to a safe place. My friends are also very frightened and a lot of them are in bomb shelters right now. Not many people have the opportunity to leave big cities and they are preparing for a blockade that can last for months. People are buying food and supermarkets are already empty.

I would like my friends and colleagues to understand that Russia is an aggressor in this conflict. They have annexed our eastern territories and Crimea and now want to occupy the whole country. Even though there are people who are against the war, the majority of the Russian population silently supports the conflict and is not ready to protest against the war and show support towards Ukraine. Ukraine is small compared to Russia, but we will do everything we can to protect our country.

Next Page: More reactions from Ukrainian MBAs

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