Ukrainian scholars and others finding a helping hand at Pitt


Amid the Russian invasion, Pitt professors and programs are aiding Ukraine and Ukrainians in their efforts to continue their academic scholarship, prepare to rebuild their country and treat victims — particularly of trauma and its effects.

The School of Law, pointing to the many ways Russia has tried to use the law to confront Ukraine before and during the war, has brought eight Ukrainian law students here to the Center for International Legal Education (CILE) with full scholarships to earn their LLM (master of laws) degree. It is part of the school’s broader Ukrainian Legal Assistance Project, which is helping prepare these students — many of them already accomplished Ukrainian lawyers — to rebuild their country after the war and to connect them now with law firms and companies here for pro bono work that can help Ukraine today.

CILE Executive Director Charles T. Kotuby Jr. points out that the program already has experience bringing students here from Afghanistan with similar goals for their homeland.

“What we’re really trying to do is create the next generation of leaders” in Ukraine, Kotuby said. “The Ukrainian students — you cannot keep them here … They want to go back and rebuild the country.”

CILE has asked the Pittsburgh legal community and international businesses for help in taking on these students part-time while they are here, involving them in legal work today. “We’ve had a wonderful response,” Kotuby said. “They are a remarkable bunch of students.

One of them is Olha V. Tsyliuryk, who already has 13 years’ experience in the law. When the war hit, she was legal adviser to the mayor of Enerhodar, 420 miles from Kyiv. She is also an elected member of her district council and a university lecturer with her own law practice. Enerhodar is the site of the nuclear power plant currently under siege by the Russians.

When the war started, she drove to Warsaw and flew to Washington, D.C., where she quickly became involved in a project to deliver food to several Ukrainian districts and raise money for relief.

By July, she felt she could do more and decided to expand her legal know-how for the eventual reconstruction of her country. “It’s very important for me to obtain new experience and new skills,” Tsyliuryk said.

Her family, whom she has not seen in half a year, is still in Ukraine. “It’s very difficult and fearful for me,” she said. “I hope everything is over soon.”

In the meantime she says that lawyers with international experience will be crucial for making Ukraine safe for the investment needed to rebuild it, she said.

Another LLM student, Andrii Kokhan, is an associate in a Kyiv law firm focused on construction law, which will be of tremendous use during the post-war rebuilding phase as well. He had already been accepted to Pitt’s LLM program when COVID-19 hit in 2020, but the war has only accelerated the need to develop new skills for rebuilding — not just structures, but the Ukrainian economy.

“I really want to participate in the development of Ukraine,” he said. “My experience will be useful for the entire country.

“I’m really excited about the fact that our students take all classes with Americans,” Kokhan said of the LLM program. “It’s a great exchange of our knowledge,” covering civil law and common law.

He will graduate from the program in May 2023. Should the war last that long, he plans to continue his education in the U.K., having already received a scholarship to a school in London, for a master’s degree in construction law and dispute resolution.

Research grants for Ukrainian academics

Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili, founding director of the Center for Governance and Markets in the Graduate School of Public & International Affairs (where she is a faculty member), hopes that GSPIA’s partnership with the Kyiv School of Economics will soon help bring Ukrainian scholars to Pitt in her field as well.

It helps that the Kyiv school is now headed by Tymofiy Mylovanov, a Pitt Department of Economics faculty member, and that it and GSPIA already had an existing scholar exchange that was put on hold by the pandemic. Murtazashvili hopes the exchange program can soon be active in bringing Ukrainians here.

She had previously worked to bring scholars to Pitt from Afghanistan but had already moved her academic work from there to Ukraine, when the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan. When Ukraine was invaded, she said, she was contacted by other institutions in the U.S. about how Pitt had resettled scholars here.

However, she cautioned, “The situation in Ukraine was different.” For one, many males in the country are required to stay and fight.

But the Center for Governance and Markets is giving research grants to Ukrainian academics through a new partnership with Ukrainian Global University, a consortium of Ukrainian and other universities. The UGU, set up by the Kyiv School of Economics, is trying to keep Ukraine’s scholarly communities intact amid the war.

Mylovanov was briefly in Pittsburgh this week, accompanying Ukraine’s energy minister who was speaking at a clean energy conference here. In Kyiv, he said, “It’s surprisingly normal … with traffic jams and restaurants and elements of night life — if you can say you get used to regular air raid warnings” and a curfew at 11 p.m.

His school in Kyiv has been able to sign contracts and memoranda for similar exchange programs with 57 universities around the world — 15 are operational, about seven are on hold similar to Pitt’s agreement, and the rest have not yet even gotten that far. He hopes next year Pitt and the others on hold will start up.

Helping first responders cope

Giving Ukrainian first responders the tools to cope with their duties — and keeping the Ukrainian mental health system functioning — are the main tasks being supported by two psychiatry faculty members, Alexandre Dombrovski and Carmen Andreescu.

“I just felt an existential need to help since the war started,” said Dombrovski, the Pittsburgh Foundation Endowed Professor in Brain and Mind Research who came here from Moscow in 2002 after working on mental health reform with NGOs and other groups in Russia. “We knew it was coming but when we saw the size of the invasion and the impact on people it hurt, and it felt so absurd, I felt the need to do something — I couldn’t just sit and watch.”

Leadership of the Ukrainian Psychiatric Association connected him to the Federation Global Initiative on Psychiatry, which works as GIP-USA in this country, a group of mental health-focused NGOs with which Andreescu has been working for decades, he said.

“There are essentially two problems right now in Ukraine,” Dombrovski explained. “Many people have been traumatized” by the war, which in itself will lead to an increase in mental health crises. The second problem is that hospitals and care homes have been damaged or destroyed and cut off from treatment supplies, which has hampered the mental health care infrastructure of the country alongside other medical care. “So the (GIP) projects try to address both problems,” he said.

GIP has long been working in Ukraine to transform its Soviet- and Russian-era policies and practices that stigmatized mental health treatment or used it as a tool of oppression, Dombrovski said. He is most enthusiastic now about working with Ukrainian colleagues to assess the needs of its hospitals and care homes.

“In some ways it is more comprehensive than the system we have here in the U.S.,” he says of Ukrainian mental health capabilities just before the war, considering its infrastructure of doctors and nurses employed by the state. But from the early weeks of the conflict, that system has run low on supplies and some hospitals, even when still standing, have been without electricity. So he has worked with GIP to find Western donors and professional associations in Europe to provide and deliver supplies to hospitals in regions amid active fighting.

“We were able to keep them going and keep the patients in treatment,” he said.

The project to assist Russian medics, firefighters and other first responders to help war victims and not burn out themselves has come amid the Russian military striking civilian targets with no strategic purpose, “only for the sake of terror,” he said. “So you have really tragic scenes of devastation there.

“The war is largely psychological, and the outcome … depends in this period on whether the will of the Ukrainian people is broken,” he said. “What we’re trying to accomplish is to help the Ukrainians really withstand this psychological assault.

“We appreciate donations,” he said, noting major support in Pittsburgh from the Brother’s Brother Foundation and UPMC Health Plan as well as individual donors. “Every dollar matters and we’ll make sure money is put to good use … where and when it is needed.

“Since this is going to be a protracted war,” he adds, “this needs to help Ukrainians build capacity” for the trauma that follows it — and the hope of continuing reform in the psychiatric field.

Mylovanov: ‘Ceasefire is not peace’

Mylovanov doesn’t believe the war will last as long as newscasters are warning. “The war in Ukraine can be won in finite time,” he said. “It is not going to be years,” especially with the help of the U.S. and other allies.

He also warns that those pushing for a mere ceasefire should realize that “ceasefire is not peace.” Instead, it would allow Russia to continue war crimes, including mass executions, in the areas it occupies, without repercussions.

Finally, he says, “people don’t understand how much is the cost of the war for this world.” As an economist, Mylovanov says he realizes the costs of the U.S. and European countries bumping up their defense budgets and how that will prohibit spending in other essential areas by the same amount. “There are serious issues that are postponed” that should not be left behind, such as studying the employment of green energy to improve energy grids, including those now damaged or destroyed in Ukraine.

But he dismisses recent talk by Russian President Vladimir Putin about mobilization of more troops, and use of nuclear weapons, as distractions. “He has been threatening this since the beginning of the war,” Mylovanov says. “The United States should not be afraid. It is a powerful country. The approach of appeasement does not work.”

What can the U.S. and its universities do to help the situation further?

“There is a lot of need to do research on the future scenarios of development” for Ukraine and the larger world, he said. He hopes Pitt, for one, can bring together the expertise within GSPIA, his economics department and the School of Computing and Information, through conferences discussing future policies to help after the war.

He added that he can “easily” help Ukrainian officials to come to Pitt for such events, and to speak to students and other campus communities, and wishes there were more efforts on campus to help that become a reality. “We can and should bring speakers and visitors and non-resident fellows” from all over the world to enrich the educational experiences of Pitt students, he said.

He praised the work of Pitt’s Ukrainian Culture Club: “It is student run and they are doing a fantastic job connecting with communities.” But he suggested that Pitt could help to institutionalize fundraising for Ukraine, creating “something like a charitable marketplace run by the University for students to contribute and be matched by foundations.”

In the meantime, Mylovanov will remain on “war sabbatical,” as he calls it.

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.


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