CSUN Ukrainian Tennis Player Deals with War in Her Homeland From Northridge
Updated: May 21
By Brandon Zamora
NORTHRIDGE, CA – Dealing with war in your homeland is terrifying. It’s even worse when you’re far away from your family and having to depend on updates about their safety via text messages or phone calls.
That’s what CSUN Ukrainian tennis player Yuliia Zhytelna has dealt with since tensions began intensifying in Ukraine. She’s in constant communication with her family while she attends CSUN.
A day before the war began, Journalism Professor Taehyun Kim invited his former student Zhytelna to lecture his Journalism 210 course about the war unfolding in Ukraine.
Professor Kim started the lecture by asking a question: ‘Where is Ukraine?’ He then put up a map onto the projector screen to show students how Ukraine shares borders with Russia.
Professor Kim says it was important to get Zhytelna to lecture his class because he knows many people don’t know about the tensions between Ukraine and Russia.
“I think a lot of people on this campus and in this country right now would be really curious to know the Ukrainian point of view,” Kim said.
Zhytelna lectured the class about the recent wars in the same region as Ukraine. She also mentioned that Ukraine’s been dealing with war since 2014.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych declined a deal with the European Union. Mass protests erupted shortly after.
The anti-government protests eventually removed President Yanukovych out of office. Russia then annexed Crimea because it didn’t want to lose its influence in Ukraine.
Zhytelna then explained the situation that’s been unfolding more recently. She says it’s really hard to see what was going on back home.
“When you’re reading the news and talking with your parents, it’s just hard to realize that there [in Ukraine] is tension and here [the U.S.] is nothing,” Zhytelna said. “And no one is basically talking about this and no one is feeling it as we [Ukrainians] are.”
Sociology student Daniela Vargas is one of the students in Professor Kim’s class. She says it’s important people actually take the time to learn about international news.
“A lot of people don’t know what’s going on outside of the [United States],” Vargas said. “I think that the situation in Ukraine has definitely shown us that”
CSUN Journalism student Branden Rodriguez says social media could be used as a tool to help spread awareness in the U.S. about international conflicts.
“If you’re on Instagram or Twitter, at least there’s [going to] be a feed where someone tells you what’s going on around the world,” Rodriguez said. “Social media should be the main content of presenting situations out there in the world.”
Zhytelna says Russia is using Ukraine potentially joining NATO as an excuse to invade and rebuild the USSR.
Russia invaded Ukraine the day following Zhytelna’s presentation. She says she was shocked and cried upon hearing the news of the invasion.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” Zhytelna said.
She says the previous eight years [Russia annexing Crimea] seemed normal because there was fighting in the east, but everything was fine in her opinion.
“But now it’s getting more serious,” Zhytelna said. “They [Russia] just want to take what[ever] they want to.”
However, she didn’t let the start of the war deter her from spreading awareness on campus. Zhytelna organized a vigil to honor those affected by the war.
Students, faculty and staff gathered in front of the University Library to show their support for Ukraine. Attendees made signs and waved thee Ukrainian flag. Zhytelna also spoke to the crowd about her own personal experience since the war began.
Zhytelna says she just wanted to show people that even though Ukraine seems far away, there are Ukrainians on campus who are dealing with the turmoil of war in their home country.
Zhytelna also mentioned she’s grateful for her Russian doubles partner Ekaterina Repina.
“She was the first who came to me, gave me her shoulder [to cry on],” Zhytelna said. “She was staying with me the whole night in the lobby.”
Zhytelna added that the whole team supported her, but Repina knew what she was going through because her country was also involved in the war.
Sasha Turchack is one of Zhytelna’s teammates. She’s half-Russian half-Ukrainian. However, her family is here in the U.S. Turchak says she makes sure to check in on Zhytelna.
“I’ve been talking to her, trying to check in with her almost every day about how she’s feeling,” Turchak said. “It’s just really hard to see [Zhytelna] really devasted about [the war]. She’s just really nervous for her family and their wellbeing.”
Jackie O’Neill is Zhytelna’s teammate and roommate. O’Neill says she’s really proud of how Zhytelna’s handled everything so far.
“I think she’s taking this as an opportunity to use her voice, advocate, and spread awareness,” O’Neill said. “She did such a good job of bringing everyone [to the vigil].”
Video credit: Brandon Zamora
Video credit: ABC News
Audio credit: Brandon Zamora
By Brandon Zamora
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Video credit: Brandon Zamora, ABC News