By: Kathryn Phillippe

I distinctly remember my heart sinking on the morning of February 24, 2022, when Russia had invaded Ukraine. The word “war” flashing boldly across headlines made me sick with worry, but I was devoted to following every moment. In the early days of the invasion, I felt a strong sense of duty to spread information and awareness via social media platforms and by word-of-mouth.

To be an advocate isn’t just to be outspoken. It is to step back and reflect within yourself, to find ways that you can personally offer assistance to a cause. In my case, I had the tool of knowledge. Just months ago, I was a virtual student under the American Councils and Moscow International University, participating in an intensive Russian language course. I dedicated myself to the program fully, learning the language quickly and making many friends along the way. Through keeping in touch with these friends, I was able to keep up with my Russian. As Ukrainian is very similar to Russian, and as many Ukrainians speak Russian, I encountered a great deal of information I could read and often understand. Although I never formally learned Ukrainian, I have seen a great deal of similarity to the Russian language, particularly through the use of the Cyrillic alphabet. What information I could not understand was not fully lost to me, as I could use my Cyrillic keyboard.

Knowing that my position in this situation was unique as someone who could see past the language barrier, I decided it was not something I should keep to myself. I began reposting Russian anti-war protests, updates from Ukraine, commentary from prominent figures, and giving them English captions if they did not have any. I posted screenshots of Russian news articles and translated the headlines. I only translated what I could when I felt confident in my translation or understood fully what was going on, to avoid spreading misinformation.

When donation sites started popping up, the earliest pages were not yet translated. As this invasion was rapid and unexpected, no one had time to imagine or prepare for such things. Posting web links to authentic sites such as Save life (renamed Come Back Alive Ukraine), I advertised that I would translate for anyone willing to donate, as well as assist them through the process. It was important to me that those seeking to help others had the means to do so. I understood that a foreign website in a language very different from English and most romance languages was a strong deterrent for donors. If the situation was different and the language was foreign to me, I understand that I would feel the same way. 

Although I only assisted one person with making a donation, I received an abundance of praise from individuals as far away as Brazil. I was happy that people were noting my example of leadership, however, it felt strange to be so applauded for an act I considered the right thing to do. We owe it to our humanity to help and care for one another. Although roughly 7,952 km away from Ukraine, my impact may not be felt, but I find peace in knowing that I tried my best to do what I could from where I am at. To be a leader is to selflessly devote and apply your skills in a way that carries others and inspires them to do the same. I can only hope that my example of leadership empowers others to see within themselves how they, too, can contribute what they have to assist others in times of need, regardless of any barriers. If there is one message I would like to leave you with, it is that leadership does not have to be in grand gestures or come out of moments of power, leadership comes from the small gestures and unnoticed moments too.

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