Chef José Andrés helps bring Ukrainian college students to US with new scholarship program
Andrés, along with two recipients of the scholarship, spoke to ABC News.
For Ukrainian college students Mykola Bondarenko and Svitlana Kukharuk, settling into life at an American university took some getting used to after living through the daily realities of war.
“It was quite complicated to get used to this stress-free life at the University of Connecticut -- when I arrived and there were no air raid sirens,” Kukharuk told ABC News.
“Normally in the morning [in Ukraine], we all woke up to the sounds of explosions,” said Bondarenko, who studied at Michigan State University.
Bondarenko and Kukharuk are two of the Ukrainian college students chosen by the Global Democracy Ambassador Scholarship program to study abroad in the U.S. for one year. The initiative is spearheaded by renowned chef José Andrés, KIND founder Daniel Lubetzky and Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, among others.
“It happened from a very, very simple idea. And what we saw is that the country, as they are defending themselves from the Russian aggression, the country, it wants to have a future – they have to keep investing. Who is the best people to be investing on right now? On the young minds of Ukrainian people coming out of universities,” Andrés told ABC News.
“We love that we have this exchange happening in the middle of a war, giving opportunity for Ukrainians, but giving opportunity to American children to learn more about other cultures,” Andrés said.
In the wake of the Russian invasion that has gripped Ukraine for more than a year, Andrés has fed thousands of Ukrainians in need through his nonprofit, World Central Kitchen. Volunteers with the organization have helped during other humanitarian crises, like providing food supplies to storm victims in Florida in the wake of Hurricane Ian. To date, the group has reportedly provided more than 70 million meals to those in need.
By bringing Ukrainian students to American campuses, Andrés says he believes it will help their American classmates “understand the fragility of democracy.”
“Usually we didn't have electricity for more than 10 hours a day and sometimes even longer. And due to the constant risks of attacks by Russia, my university had moved its classes online, but because of their electricity blackouts, that meant that there was no internet, disrupted mobile connection, no heating and sometimes even no water made it practically impossible to study,” Kukharuk said.
During her year in Connecticut, Kukharuk said she was surprised that some of her classmates didn’t know the war was still going on. She’s now heading back to Ukraine, but with “mixed feelings.”
“As much as I want to see my family, see my friends, and finally meet them, reading all the news about the constant missiles and drone attacks conducted by Russia in Ukraine really make me a little bit worried,” Kukharuk said.
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