Home U.S.Education Enlisting Ukrainian Students to Promote Democracy in America

Enlisting Ukrainian Students to Promote Democracy in America

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The founder of an energy bar company, a former chess champion, a retired U.S. Army colonel, and a celebrity chef have teamed up to do something as unusual as a gathering of people.

They have launched a $1 million pilot program for Ukrainian college students studying in the United States, guaranteeing their education for one year as long as they are willing to become democratic “ambassadors.” American student.

The program is run by a pick-up team that includes Kind Bar founder Daniel Lubetzky. Gary Kasparov, a Russian-American democracy activist who was once the world’s greatest chess grandmaster. Col. Alexander Vindmann, a former Ukrainian-born National Security Council official who testified during the initial impeachment proceedings of Donald Trump. Jose Andrés is a chef turned humanitarian who feeds the world in crisis.

Their intention is to rapidly expand the program as other sponsors and board members join the project. This project is managed in part by a global non-profit organization, the Institute of International Education. The Institute will help select the first batch of 20 students this month with information from the above co-chairs of the new group.

Ukraine and the United States face different threats to their democracies, and extremism, authoritarianism and disinformation are on the rise around the world. A relatively new democratic government allows Ukrainians to give Americans a strong warning and a metaphorical call to arms, the new group claims.

“We are doing this partly for strategic reasons,” said Lubetzky. “To awaken Americans to the inability to take for granted the gifts we have of democracy, freedom, and the rule of law.”

Lubetzky, who grew up in Mexico as the son of a Holocaust survivor and immigrated to the United States as a teenager, says he has two main motivations.

First, he said he was inspired by the fight of the Ukrainian people against Russian aggression and their struggle to preserve a fragile democracy in the face of all odds. And second, he said he was deeply concerned about America’s own democracy, especially after the events of January 6, 2021, and the subsequent continuation of falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election.

Ukraine, a former Soviet state, adopted a democratic system after the fall of the Iron Curtain. At one point it overthrew the pro-Russian government in what became known as the Maidan Revolution. This uprising had a great impact on the Kremlin leader, Vladimir Putin. Putin responded to the revolution by annexing Crimea in 2014, attacking the eastern part of the country and then invading outright.

Today, the T-shirt-wearing president of Ukraine, former comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, is hardly an international symbol of courage in the face of oppression. usa.

“My father always saw the light in the dark,” Lubetzky said. He told the story of how Nazi guards at Dachau, a concentration camp in Germany, threw potatoes at his severely malnourished father’s feet.

Vindman, who is about to complete a dissertation on the history of Ukrainian-American relations, draws on his experience in an educational program run by the State Department for international partners of the U.S. military. As an officer stationed abroad in the former Soviet Union, including Moscow, Vindmann saw the power of such a program and wanted to replicate the experience for an estimated 1,700 Ukrainian college students in the United States.

“I saw how these people terraformed their communities,” Vindman said.

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Andrés, owner of Barmini, Jaleo, and other fine dining restaurants in Washington and elsewhere, said his organization, World Central Kitchen, helped some of the millions of Ukrainian refugees who fled to Poland and other neighboring countries. Joining the initiative after months of providing food. .

Ukrainian civil society was shattered by the war. The World Bank estimates that about 700,000 students have been displaced and more than 2,000 educational institutions have been damaged, of which about 200 have been destroyed by bombing and shelling.

“Despite the incredible difficulties, every day thousands of Ukrainian food fighters show up to provide nutritious meals and food aid to their families,” said Andrés. Standing at the top are young Ukrainians, they are the future and we must invest to help them rebuild and prosper.”

Applications for the first batch of students will be accepted until September 22nd, after which the Institute for International Education will begin reviewing candidates. The fall semester has already begun at most U.S. colleges and universities, so selected students can receive financial assistance immediately.

In addition to generous scholarships and one-year scholarships to help cover living expenses, the program includes counseling, mentoring, networking, and events to help students meet each other and become evangelists for democracy here in the United States. can learn state.

Applicants are judged not only on financial need, academic performance, and English proficiency, but also on their ability and commitment to promote democratic values ​​to Americans. As part of the application process, you will be asked to write a short essay.

Upon joining the program, students will be supported with training materials and the Renew Democracy Initiative, a non-profit organization on which both Kasparov and Vindman serve on the board.

For Lubetzky, the program reflects the emotions of a duel between inspiration and fear.

For years he has worried about the erosion of democratic values ​​in his second homeland. Recently, he began reading about his Germany in Weimar and the rise of Adolf Hitler, trying to “connect the dots” and understand how an educated and sophisticated society descended into barbarism and fascism.

And while acknowledging that the parallels to that period in world history were inaccurate, he repeatedly stressed that “I’m not saying Trump is like Hitler”…then and now.

After seeing the coverage of the January 6th Capitol raid, he decided to devote his resources to civic education and mutual understanding. This new Ukraine scholarship program is just one of many initiatives he has seeded or otherwise funded through his private foundation.

“These weaknesses of the American spirit are troubling,” said Lubetzky.

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