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

Oksana Kosendiak poses with classmates of Lviv Business School Ukrainian Catholic University before the war. Courtesy photo

What is the situation like now in your hometown? How are your family and friends fairing?

Oksana: My parents live in Ternopil, my husband and my brother with his girlfriend live in Lviv and I have friends all over Ukraine. Some of them are serving in the Ukrainian Armed Forces defending our country from the Russian invasion.

Last week there were rocket attacks at Ternopil and Lviv regions, so my family had to hide in bomb shelters to be okay. Yesterday my friend in Kyiv woke up because of the sounds of explosions. Thanks to Ukrainian Armed Forces, nobody was hurt but each Ukrainian must be permanently ready to hide, to leave their homes in case of bombings. They have their “emergency backpacks” where they packed all necessary things (money, documents, some food, warm clothes, hygiene staff, etc.) they might need in case they have to leave their homes.
Despite this, my family and friends are trying to continue living. My father even planted beds and a small garden because he believes as we like to say now in Ukraine “Life will win over death. And light will win over darkness. Glory to Ukraine!”

National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy where Maksym Savchyn is earning his master’s degree in business development. Courtesy photo

Max: The first two months of the war were critical inside and next to Kyiv. Now that the third month of the war has passed, Kyiv is slowly coming back to normal life. Still, the city will never return to what it was before. People have changed. Now Ukrainians are united as never before. Everybody is volunteering, helping our army, working to rebuild the destroyed places, but peace is still far away. The situation is still tense, no one can guarantee that there won’t be a second attack on Kyiv. Missiles are still being launched, air raid sirens are wailing, but people got used to it. Our people do not allow themselves to get tired of the war, because we understand that if we hold back and lose, half of Europe will fall after us.

My family and friends are all over the world now. My father is in the western Ukraine, my brother is in Kyiv, my mother is in Poland, and I am in Canada. Many of my friends are still in Ukraine, but most of them have moved to Europe. It seems like everybody got used to the war, no matter how scary it is. The distance and the fact that we were forced into a situation like that angers and upsets me. We stay in touch anyways, and even meet each other sometimes: I’m lucky to have a few of my friends with me in Canada. We miss the time of peace but now we understand that we need to adapt to the new reality. I am proud because they help Ukraine no matter how far away they are.

Were either of you thinking about MBAs before this opportunity came up? Were you hesitant about leaving Ukraine?

Oksana: I was thinking about getting an MBA in several years because I was just finishing up my Master’s and I wanted to have a break. Maybe five years from now. But then I got a call from my business school’s academic director and told me about the opportunity at Ivey. And I thought, “Oh my god. Is this real?”

A street in Bucha, Ukraine, located about 20 km away from National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. ‘Brutal warfare and a lot of civilian casualties took place, beautiful peaceful cities were turned to ruins and ashes. My family’s house is located near Irpin, we left this area on the first day of war. We were leaving the city while military aircraft was flying passing by in sky but luckily we got out safely,’ Savchyn says.

Was your husband immediately excited or was he hesitant?

Oksana: He was really excited and also immediately saddened. Even now he’s really supportive. I was the one who was having second thoughts. Like, how could I leave him? He said, “Oksana, you should do it. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s only one year, and we will be okay.” He was sad because I had to go, but he said that it would benefit my future. And given that I’m really a Ukrainian patriot, I really love my country, I can bring back to Ukraine everything I learn in the program.

What about you Max? Were you nervous to leave your friends and family during a war?

Max: I had already left Ukraine before I got to Ivey. In Ukraine, you can get special documentation which says that you’re not suitable for Army. Because of problems with my eyes, I got that and was able to leave Ukraine. But a lot of my friends didn’t. But it was the same situation with my family. They said it’s a huge opportunity for you so you shouldn’t hesitate.

What was it like to come to Ivey, away from your families, with a war still raging in your home country?

Oksana: Everybody is so supportive — the administration, the students, the teachers. They gave us a special adaptation week where we were separated from the rest of the students to get acquainted with the case-study method of teaching at Ivey. They gave us our books, they paired us with student buddies who could help us get up to speed. That was very helpful. We have one teacher who has roots in Ukraine, and he was really supportive. He invited us to a barbecue. The people here really care about what’s going on and how we feel here. So our introduction to the Ivey program was really smooth.

Max: The students here have been so great. We had an unofficial meeting with our classmates in a bar before we got into the classroom, and everybody knew about us, they were expecting us, and they’ve been very helpful in a lot of ways. I was really surprised that they could care about these people from Ukraine so much.

What are your plans after your year at Ivey?

Oksana Kosendiak at Ivey Business School. Courtesy photo

Oksana: I’m planning on going back to Ukraine. And I must say I will go back to a free country which has won the war. Russia is doing a lot of damage to the infrastructure and business in Ukraine so there will be a lot of work to do to get our country through this rebuilding period. I think that the exceptional experience that I will gain during my studying at Ivey’s MBA program will be very useful in rebuilding the Ukrainian economy.

I think of Ukraine as a country of great opportunities, because we have a lot of things that other countries don’t have. We have a really high level of digitalization, we have a really great level of development. You don’t just come and do what other people invented before you, you have that opportunity to be the first one to make something really great. I think that smart people, professional people, they shouldn’t leave Ukraine. They have to stay, or they have to go and then come back to bring their knowledge and help Ukraine flourish.

Max: I’m no exception here. I think that after a year of studying at the Ivey Business School, I will gain work experience in other companies and then return to Ukraine. After living abroad for three months, I was very surprised because I realized that we truly are a developed country. Digitalization, creativity, great opportunities to open new businesses – these are what we have at a high level and what I did not appreciate as much when I was living in Ukraine. Therefore, I am confident that after the war, Ukraine will have great opportunities to develop exponentially. And I think that I am not the only one who wants to be a part of this process.

You’ve been at Ivey for about a month now. What’s been the hardest part of the experience so far, and what has been the most pleasant or surprising?

Max: The hardest part for me is learning to switch from thinking in Ukrainian to thinking in English. To formulate your entire mindset to another language is hard. I feel so much smarter in Ukrainian than in English. So, like, I have a bachelor’s, I have a master’s degree, I have five years of working experience and I was a product manager in one of the biggest ad companies in Ukraine. So why is it so hard to figure out the problem in this case study? (He laughs).

Maksym Savchyn and his classmates at National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. Courtesy photo

The most surprising part for me are the people. Our professors, our classmates, the administration, and even the community of London are so great. They are so willing to help, they are so kind, and I think that’s the best part. It’s made the adjustments much easier.

Oksana: The hardest thing is that we came in the middle of the program, so we had to catch up really quickly. But they are really understanding on that point.

The greatest part for me is how people are helping each other. The things I heard about MBA programs is that everybody’s really competitive – trying to be the best and to be exceptional. Here, it’s a whole different story. I feel like I can ask any question I need. The first week, I was so stressed. I didn’t talk much. People just approached me and asked if I needed help with something, if they could help explain the concepts. Everybody wants everybody to succeed.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Oksana: I just want to ask people not to lose interest in the war in Ukraine. It’s been almost four months since russia invaded Ukraine and they did a lot of horrible things to our people: rape, killing, execution and tortures. These were all innocent people who were just living their life in the country they love. Russians continue doing all the horrible things to Ukrainian defenders and civilians in the Eastern and Southern parts of Ukraine. The thing that everybody can do is to keep reading about the war and share information with other people so the world doesn’t get used to the situation when innocent people in the heart of Europe in the 21st Century die just because they are Ukrainians.

Max: I would like to add that every Ukrainian is grateful to the western countries for their help at this time. We ask the people of the civilized world not to get tired and not to forget about these terrible events that are happening in our country right now. Help, volunteer, demand faster help from your government to Ukraine, because this war is not exclusively Ukrainian-Russian. This is a war for the free world.


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