Ohio State University President Kristina M. Johnson joined colleagues from other Association of American Universities (AAU) schools today in a Zoom meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Leaders from the University of Pittsburgh, University of California at Irvine, University of Virginia and more asked questions of Zelenskyy, who made an impassioned argument for students, faculty and administrators alike to embrace what he called an “age of choice.”
Speaking to students, faculty and staff at AAU institutions across the United States, Zelenskyy often returned the importance of being an actor, not an observer, in today’s world. Zelenskyy said he wanted to reach students watching on YouTube for just this reason. At one point, more than 5,400 viewers were watching the discussion.
“Let me call this ‘the golden age’ [of choice],” he said through a translator. “You choose your answer to the question who you are. Who are you and what are you?”
Zelenskyy’s administration envisions a postwar Ukrainian education sector with world-class research universities that drive scientific discovery and technological advancement, contribute to the nation’s economy and collaborate closely with American universities. During his address, Zelenskyy outlined his forward-thinking vision for Ukraine, which includes the Ukrainian Global University, an international network of institutions working to help displaced Ukrainian students and scholars continue their education and research.
University leaders sought answers about how best to support Ukrainians at home and abroad, and about the tremendous academic loss the country is facing as its scholars flee the Russian invasion.
Johnson asked how Ohio State can support the rebuilding of Ukraine’s institutions and industry in the post-war period.
“Most of the institutions on this call have a particular focus on research, entrepreneurship and tech commercialization. How can we partner with you to help in the postwar recovery and create partners with Ukrainian companies, Ukrainian institutions and yourself in order to help the recovery?” she asked.
Zelenskyy views the reconstruction of Ukraine as a “stimulus for life.” He described the work already underway with various governments. What he hopes American colleges and universities can provide is expertise.
“We can … design and construct some buildings, a campus, but we need people who have the knowledge, the expertise, who are professional, so we are prepared for this work,” he said. “We would be very grateful for help in this kind of reconstruction and the new curricula.”
“Count on us,” Johnson said.
Since the beginning of the Russian war in Ukraine, Ohio State has committed to supporting its students from the region. Students and faculty have led fundraising and supply drives, and numerous campus communities have shared messages of hope and goodwill. Students abroad are also contributing to relief efforts.
The Office of International Affairs has compiled a list of resources including counseling services, donation information and academic events that aim to provide context for the conflict.
The John Glenn College of Public Affairs has a long-standing relationship with Ukraine thanks to its Parliamentary Development Project. A U.S. Agency for International Development-funded program, the project has provided technical assistance to Ukraine’s democratic parliament.
Zelenskyy thanked the AAU representatives repeatedly.
“I’m very grateful to your nation, to your leaders…,” he said. “At the end of the day, this is the answer to our question: Who do you want to be, what do you want to be? If you don’t want to be a victim or an indifferent bystander, you should instead be fighters for democracy, guardians of democracy.”
You can watch the meeting in its entirety on the AAU YouTube channel.