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Ukrainian Student Pulls Inspiration From Her Home Country

Jessica Piland

Viktoriia Lukianenko came to the U.S. to go to college, not to escape a war. She left Ukraine in December 2021 and arrived in Florida to attend FGCU. Two months later, Russia invaded her home.

The war in Ukraine has changed her mentality; it has made her tougher. 

“I’m Ukrainian, I can do this,” she said. 

Now a sophomore pre-nursing student, Viktoriia Lukianenko applies this intensity in the classroom. 

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She wanted to go to an American university after visiting Florida as a child. She fell in love with American culture and the Florida sunshine. According to a study done by Boston College, nearly half of Ukrainian students have bribed their instructors and 95% openly admitted to cheating on exams. Viktoriia Lukianenko wanted to earn her degree, not pay for it. To her, an American degree holds more meaning and comes with more opportunities. 

It took over a year to gather the right documentation for her to study in the U.S. She lived in Odesa, the main port city of Ukraine.. She had to pass English tests and take the SAT to get accepted. She had to travel seven hours to take the SAT in the capital of Ukraine, Kiev. 

Viktoriia Lukianenko left Ukraine in December 2021. 

“I thought I would come back to visit home once or twice a year, but right now I can’t do that,” she said. 

 In the airport, she said goodbye to her family and was excited for her new life in America. 

“I’m just leaving, I’m not dying,” she said to her weeping parents.

Two months after she said goodbye to her family, Russia invaded Ukraine. Russian forces surrounded Ukraine and stormed in. Thousands of missiles and artillery shells rained down upon Ukraine. Long convoys of tanks and armored vehicles transported hundreds of thousands of troops to capture Ukrainian territory. Viktoriia Lukianenko saw the news of the invasion but didn’t believe it. She texted her father back home and asked what was happening.

Jessica Piland

 “The war started,” her father, Ihor Lukianenko, said. 

Most Ukrainians thought the war would never happen. When it began, they believed the war would last a few weeks, not years. The invasion angered Viktoriia Lukianenko. 

“[I felt] hate. Not even sadness, just hate and anger,” she said. 

Her parents were still in Ukraine when the war began. 

Days after the invasion, her mother, Dariia, along with millions of other Ukrainians, fled to Poland. She stayed with a family until she was able to come to the U.S. She’s lived with Viktoriia Lukianenko in Fort Myers since then.  

Her father stayed in Ukraine. He works as an electrical engineer in Odesa’s ports. The war has caused many Ukrainians to lose their jobs and take pay cuts. He makes a third of what he used to working in the ports. 

“When I walk down the street at least five people come up to me asking for a cigarette,” he said. 

“People can’t afford such things as cigarettes anymore.” 

Ihor Lukianenko signed up for the Ukrainian army and joined the fight. 

 “[In the army] you literally do not belong to yourself,” he said. “You can be woken up at any moment to perform some task and there might be no time to eat. You may be sent on a mission that you know in advance is deadly. This kind of absolute dependence is probably the most difficult experience in the army.” 

“[My dad] is brave, but sometimes he does things without thinking about the consequences,” Viktoriia Lukianenko said.  

She shares the same bravery, toughness and determination that has been shown by Ukrainians throughout the war. There are many difficulties associated with being an international student; taking classes in a foreign language, adjusting to a new culture and being far from home. This doesn’t faze Viktoriia Lukianenko. 

“When I came here my English was pretty good, but I still had a language barrier,” she said. “You just have to start speaking and realize that it’s actually not that bad.”

Viktoriia Lukianenko has enjoyed her time at FGCU and even made the dean’s list her first semester. 

“I like it here,” she said. “The variety of subjects you can take and the huge campus. There are so many fancy buildings.”

Next semester, Viktoriia Lukianenko will transition into FGCU’s nursing program. She wants to be a nurse because she likes to help people. 

After graduating, she plans to work as a nurse in the U.S. or Ukraine. She hopes to visit her home country again. In the meantime, she uses her Ukrainian resilience to work towards earning her degree. 


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About the Contributor
Jessica Piland
Jessica Piland, Eagle News Photo Editor
Jessica Piland is a senior majoring in political science and minoring in global studies. She found her passion for photography during her senior year of high school after shooting some film for fun with her grandfather’s camera from the 80s. In addition to her work as photo editor for Eagle News, she works as a staff photographer for FGCU Athletics and is a photography intern with the University Marketing and Communications department. As she enters her third year as photo editor, she is excited for the fun stories, campus events, and breaking news that Eagle News will be covering!

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