‘We Felt Like Superstars’: First Wave Of Ukrainian Students Join Ivey MBA Program

Podil, an historic neighborhood in Kyiv, Ukraine, is shown after Russian bombing during the war. The National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Maksym Savchyn’s business school, is located in Podil. (Photo courtesy Maksym Savchyn)

When the first missiles fell near Kyiv, Ukraine shortly after 5 a.m. on February 24, Oksana Kosendiak and Maksym (Max) Savchyn’s lives changed in an instant.

Before, they were two young Ukrainian professionals who would be soon getting ready for their workdays ahead. Both were also students finishing the last semesters of their master’s degrees: Oksana’s in HR and organizational development, Max’s in business development with concentrations in management and consulting.

But when they woke up that morning, their classes had been canceled. Work was put on hold. Soon Max was preparing to flee Kyiv with his family. Oksana eventually learned to work and study on her laptop inside bomb shelters whenever the air sirens began wailing overhead.

“It was very hard because all of the spheres of your life just ended in one moment when the war started,” Max tells Poets&Quants. “My family and I left Kyiv in the first day because it was under threat of attack. That was a horrible experience. I mean, you see all of the aircrafts and you see all of the military vehicles in your homeland, and you can’t believe that happens in 21st Century Europe.”

A group photo of Ukrainian MBAs joining the one-year MBA cohort at Ivey Business School. One is a mother with a child, who is also pictured. (Courtesy photo)

11 DISPLACED UKRAINIANS EXPECTED AT IVEY

Today, both Oksana and Max are in London, Ontario, enrolled in the one-year MBA program at Ivey Business School. They are two of eight Ukrainian students to arrive at Ivey within the last month, and another two displaced Ukrainian students are expected to arrive over the next few months.

Ivey is waiving their MBA tuition and providing a monthly $1,500 stipend to offset living costs. Accommodation is also provided, thanks to the generous support of an Ivey alumnus. The school is hoping to raise $350,000 for the recently created Academic Shelter Fund, which will support the Ukrainian exchange students and other students fleeing conflict in the future.

Upon their arrival, the students were showered with Ivey swag, household items, food from a local Ukrainian grocery store, and a slew of well wishes.

“We felt like superstars,” Oksana says. “Wherever we went, everybody was like, “Oh, you’re the Ukrainian students. We’re glad to have you here!”

Ivey started working to bring displaced Ukrainian MBAs to Canada shortly after the invasion, and you can read about those efforts here. Representatives at Lviv Business School of Ukrainian Catholic University and National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy identified Ukrainian graduate students who could benefit from Ivey’s MBA programming to support their educational progress, the school says. The students are entering the program on an exchange basis.

Last week, Poets&Quants had the pleasure of speaking with Oksana and Maksym (Max) about their experience. Both were finishing up master’s degrees and working professional jobs when the war broke out, and both left families and friends behind to take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity. Our conversation is below, edited for length and clarity.

Tell us a little about yourselves and your backgrounds.

Oksana Kosendiak

Oksana: I am 27, and originally I’m from Ternopil in the western part of Ukraine. I had been living in Kyiv (the capital) and Kharkiv in the Eastern part of Ukraine on and off, and for the last 5 years I have been living in Lviv.

My professional background is in HR and organizational development. I worked at a biotech company called Enzym Company, and at an NGO called Ukrainian Leadership Academy. This month, I’m finishing my Master’s Degree in HR and Organizational Development at Lviv Business School of Ukrainian Catholic University which is operating remotely. Last week I sent over my master thesis, and I have to make a presentation before the Board of Teachers, so we will do it online.

Max: I’m from Kyiv, and in one week I will finish my Master’s degree in business development (management and consulting) from National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.

This is my first experience in an MBA. I would say I’m kind of young for an MBA because I’m 22 years old. I also worked for five years as a product manager in IT and as a strategic analyst at a marketing agency.

What were you doing when the invasion happened?

Max: For one month, everything stopped. We stopped our jobs to help our army actually. I’ve worked in IT companies, so we started massive IT campaigns in Russia to inform Russian people what they are actually doing because in the first months we all believed that the Russians just didn’t know what Putin was doing.

But after some time, the most horrible thing was that we were getting used to war. It was like the Coronavirus. Our studying just went online. So this exchange program at Ivey was not so hard because we have some experience with moving to an online format. The hardest thing was that my family lives abroad and I came to Canada. My family can’t leave Ukraine because not all men could leave.

Max Savchyn

Oksana: I have a bit of a different story because when the war started, I was working at a biotech company in Ukraine, and our main product was yeast. You need that to make bread, and my company is a leader in the Ukrainian market. So we couldn’t stop working. We had to continue working to supply the whole country with bread. So when the war started, when the air alarms went off, we were going to bomb shelters and I just took my laptop with me.

When it came to study, I had one elective course left and I had to write my master’s thesis. I put a stop to that for a while, but two weeks after the war started, we had our elective course online. And sometimes, the alarms sounded during the course and we had to go to the bomb shelter and continue studying from there. The business school was really flexible with that. You do feel distracted. You cannot focus for a long time because you’re always refreshing the news feed, looking at what’s going on in different parts of the country. I actually finished my master’s thesis while I was here in Canada and now I’m waiting to defend it.

I’m married, and I left my husband in Ukraine because he cannot leave. He also doesn’t want to because of the war. So you have to balance between studying here at Ivey and checking in with your family. The first several days it was like, I have to start focusing on the MBA program, but there are always things going on in our home country and we are trying to adapt to that.

Max: Yes. I had to finish my work for one month after I got here. There is a seven hour time difference with Ukraine, and so when I was sleeping, they’re starting their job, and when I was waking up they were finishing.

Oksana: But we have to say that Ivey has been really supportive of that. The opportunity to continue our studying here at Ivey’s MBA program was a once in a lifetime opportunity. We couldn’t skip it.

NEXT PAGE: Life back in Ukraine + Rebuilding their home country

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