On Feb. 15, William & Mary’s Russian and Post-Soviet Studies (RPSS) Program hosted students for a screening of “Atlantis,” a 2019 Ukrainian dystopian movie about life after war that was filmed predominantly in Mariupol, Ukraine, from January to March 2018.

Russian and Film Studies Professor Alexander Prokhorov was struck by the silence of the students afterward.

“They were so shocked by what they saw,” he said.

“It’s set in the year 2025 when Ukraine will defeat Russia and the victory will be accomplished,” Prokhorov continued. “The film also deals with a particular kind of damage, a psychological damage that this war caused.

“But what was shown in this 2019 film, which won an award at the Venice Film Festival, is the Ukrainian city of Mariupol and its steel mills, places that are by now completely destroyed. They don’t even exist, so this quite nightmarish dystopian sci-fi film doesn’t even depict the scale of crimes that the Russian army actually committed there.”

Feb. 24 marks the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion into Ukraine. Prokhorov, his fellow RPSS faculty and members of the W&M community continue to make efforts to keep Ukraine’s fight for democracy top of mind.

That includes events like the “Atlantis” film screening and this spring’s Tepper Lecture Series that will bring leading experts to the university to discuss the war in Ukraine. The series received funding from The Gregory Tepper Lecture Fund and is also co-sponsored by the history department and the Reves Center for International Studies.

Other departments are also hosting events, such as the March 1 lecture “Ukraine’s Unnamed War: Before the Russian Invasion of 2022.”

“The war began in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea. I want to emphasize this so it’s 100% clear,” Prokhorov said. “Many people think that the war began a year ago, but this crime has been happening for nine years.

“We shouldn’t forget that it’s happening. Every day, hundreds of people are dying. We need to provide as much help to the Ukrainian army and people at this point.”

Ukraine flag in Polish storefront
A Ukrainian flag flies outside a storefront in Poland. (Alexander Prokhorov photo)

Support for Ukraine

Some at the university have established ways to honor Ukraine, such as the 12-inch blue and yellow ribbons attached to safety pins that Senior Lecturer of Russian Language & Culture Bella Ginzbursky-Blum has distributed to students and faculty at various events.

“It is understandably difficult for everyone around the world to still think about Ukraine when every day there’s a new tragedy, like the horrible earthquake in Turkey and Syria. It is difficult to keep paying attention to a distant war,” said Ginzbursky-Blum, director of W&M’s Domestic Project GO program for 2023. “That’s why I want to distribute the ribbons. I want to remind those around me that Ukraine is fighting for its survival, and I want to ask those around me to show support for Ukraine.”

With the help of Assistant Director of the Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation Mike Blum, Ginzbursky-Blum and Russian Studies Program Director Elena Prokhorova, Alexander Prokhorov created a GoFundMe fundraiser for a nongovernmental organization in Krakow, Poland, whose main mission is to help refugees driven out of Ukraine.

The fundraiser collected $3,500 in one week, and Alexander Prokhorov presented the funds – as well as other items, including power banks and phone headsets and toys for children – to an NGO called Salam Lab that helps Ukrainian refugees find housing and supports a multitude of educational programs.

Alexander Prokhorov and his daughter Dasha Prokhorova, a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, visited Krakow for 10 days in January to volunteer their time and deliver goods and funds to Salam Lab and another NGO called Soup for Ukraine that provides food for refugees.

At Salam Lab, Alexander Prokhorov helped run a workshop for refugees seeking educational opportunities in the United States.

At Soup for Ukraine, Alexander Prokhorov and his daughter worked with Polish natives and a group of international volunteers from Japan, China and Italy to cook food, unload trucks and purchase supplies. They also distributed free soup and bread every day, and they made vegetable plates that were given out for free to 100 families per day.

Co-founded by a local restauranteur and event planner, Soup for Ukraine also sends food to orphanages in Lviv, Ukraine.

Alexander Prokhorov and daughter Dasha
William & Mary Russian and Film Studies Professor Alexander Prokhorov, left, and his daughter Dasha volunteered at an NGO in Krakow, Poland, called Soup For Ukraine that provided free food for Ukrainian refugees. (Courtesy photo)

Barbaric attacks

The impact of the Russian invasion has been felt by many, including the scores of Ukrainian refugees who crossed the border into Poland. Alexander Prokhorov said he met a family from Kyiv that fled last March because the apartment building next to theirs was struck by a missile, and the explosion from the impact blew out the windows of their home.

“We couldn’t imagine that this would be happening in the present day,” he said. “It’s like an experience from World War II with the kind of barbaric attacks on civilians who obviously are completely innocent people.”

Physical stress is only part of the impact of this war, he added.

“It’s terrible. It’s an ongoing war crime,” he said. “You’re scarred for the rest of your life.”

When asked to reflect on the last year following the start of Russia’s invasion, Alexander Prokhorov said, “I grew up in Russia, and I feel guilty of all the crimes that have been committed by Russia in Ukraine, and I think it’s shared by my wife and me and my daughter, who has been studying Ukrainian academically for several years already.

“So there’s guilt and at the same time admiration for the Ukrainian people who keep on fighting. We just try to spread the word about their courage.”

Prokhorov said that at stake in this war is not only Ukraine’s independence but the fate of democracy throughout the world.

“When I think about Ukraine, I’m really optimistic in a sense that I know it’s a terribly tragic event, the war, but the fact that Ukrainians stood up against Russian imperialism is a very important moment, and their success really is inspiring,” he said.

Editor’s note: Democracy is one of four cornerstone initiatives in W&M’s Vision 2026 strategic plan. Visit the Vision 2026 website to learn more.

, Communications Specialist