Recovery of the Ukrainian Adventist Center of Higher Education in Butcha, Ukraine
An interview with Valentyna Kuryliak by Cédric Lachenal
The city of Bucha, shaken and desolated after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, is rebuilding its walls, streets, and buildings. Near the center of the city, the Ukrainian Adventist Center of Higher Education1 opened its doors again in order that dreams of a place where wisdom will reign, and where education will proclaim the wholistic development of all those who seek it, will become a reality.
I talked recently2 to Valentyna Kuryliak, associate professor and vice-rector for research for scientific work at the Ukrainian Adventist Center of Higher Education, about the future of Adventist higher education in Ukraine.
Dr. Kuryliak, let’s begin with a little about Ukrainian Adventist Center of Higher Education (UACHE).
The institution began its operation in 1999. Unlike most Adventist institutions of higher learning that start with a theological seminary, the early focus of Ukrainian Adventist Center of Higher Education was on humanities and economics, and this was in response to a high demand by the church for education in these areas in our part of Europe. Today, the school has grown to just over a thousand students, and the school offers a number of majors, including degrees in journalism, archeology, and cybernetics—all fully recognized by the Ukrainian State and international accrediting bodies such as the Accrediting Association of Seventh-day Adventist Schools, Colleges, and Universities (AAA).
The campus is blessed to be in an ideal part of the city of Bucha. The property is surrounded by woods and is less than a kilometer from the center of the city. During the recent invasion and occupation, the campus itself did not suffer from intense bombing and destruction. Therefore, while you may have heard in the news about buildings in the city being blown apart, our institute was spared and still stands, by God’s grace. However, our buildings bear many bullet holes and have sustained broken furniture and other damage. The campus was first occupied by Russian troops which used it as a station for troops. Later, Ukrainian troops took over the campus and informed the administration that they would protect our buildings from damage. A lot remains to be done to restore the shelled buildings. The work began immediately to clean the entire campus and buildings in preparation for the upcoming academic year.
During the war, what happened to students and teachers when rockets and bombs began to fall at the military airport so close to the college?
Prior to the invasion, none of us believed that anything would really happen. Since 2014, we have been used to hearing about possibilities of war and invasion, but never thought that it would actually become a reality.
But on February 24, 2022, my husband woke me up around 6:45 in the morning, shouting, “Wake up. We are under attack. We need to pack. We need to leave. We have only 15 minutes.” It took me a while to realize what was happening. I had to settle things fast, not only for myself, but also for students, and the university. “Fifteen minutes” became the focal point that resonated in my mind. In 15 minutes, I had to make sure that I had called the rector and other administrators about the evacuation; in 15 minutes I had to make sure that students were taken care of; in 15 minutes I had to help my younger sister to be ready to leave; in 15 minutes I had to pack just what was necessary; in 15 minutes I had to decide where to go. It probably took more than 15 minutes to do all that, but this “15-minute” charge echoes in my mind even to this day.
Most of the students and families left the campus on the first day of the invasion. Due to martial law promulgated by the Ukrainian government, most men, including students, were expected to go into public services supporting the logistics and economy of the country. Ukraine recognizes the noncombatant status of the Seventh-day Adventist Church so Adventist men, including students, ended up performing civil service, and working in the city’s premier bakery that supplies bread for the entire country.
A number of the male students relocated to the Adventist Rzhavintsi youth camp in western Ukraine, where they could continue their theological studies online. In addition, along with some women, they are taking care of 97 orphans who are internally displaced from the Nikolaev region. While disruptive to university studies, caring for this vulnerable population is commendable training for future pastors and theologians.
Have you kept contact with your students and colleagues? Are there any known casualties among them?
We have had some losses and heard of some terrible stories, but perhaps the experience of Olga, our head librarian, will help us understand the tragedy of war anywhere.
Olga and her husband had spent years renovating a house for their retirement. In early March, bombing reached their district, and a rocket totally destroyed their house. Olga had sought refuge prior to the attack but her husband, still in the house when the bombs fell, was hit badly, and lost both his hands. Other rockets fell all around the neighborhood, and Olga’s son, a policeman, pressed on to provide assistance to people. He was shot to death while carrying a child whom he had just rescued from a burning house. He was their only son.
Through social media, we have organized groups and means of communicating with most of our students, but our institution is a complex one. Our campus welcomes students from about 20 countries, although Ukrainian students are in the majority. Besides them are large numbers of students from our neighboring countries. We continue to have contact with all European students, although communication has become difficult lately due to the conflict and displacement of so many. We just pray that wherever they are, the Lord will keep His embrace upon them.
What are the perspectives and hopes for your campus?
Our campus has a great mission to share. We are in the process of removing the relics and debris of war in order to prepare our campus to fulfill its ordained mission to all the students who will fill its halls. We will not be able to remove all the traces of the conflict, but we believe that with time, the campus will be able to recover and continue its primary mission. What we do not really know at this point is how many students will be able to join us. For elementary and secondary schools, the opening may be well ensured (if the school has a bomb shelter), but it is a bit more complicated for collegiate studies. But the work is not ours; it is God’s. We must plan and do all we can, and let the Lord lead and provide.
Our hope is that our campus will serve as a testimony of peace and resilience, and as a thriving definition of Adventism. Through all the events I faced in the past few months, Matthew 24:6 has helped me to look forward. “‘You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed’” (NIV).3 But after these, the Son of man will appear. The Second Advent is the essence of our church and her faith proclamation. More than ever, our campuses must make this message the core of its teaching.
Dr. Kuryliak, on behalf of many who will read this interview, please be assured that we will certainly pray for your institution, for Ukraine, for Russia, and for the soon second coming of our Lord, who is the Prince of Peace.
Cédric Lachenal (PhD, Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, Philippines), is Professor of Adventist History at Adventist University Zurcher, Madagascar; and Director of the Ellen G. White Center for the Indian Ocean Union Conference. E-mail:
Website: https://ugi.edu.ua/en/ Updates and pictures of Ukrainian Adventist Center of Higher Education and its recovery from the war are regularly put on https://ugi.edu.ua/bozha-blagodat-i-naslidky- vijny-yak-instytut-perezhyv-okupacziyu/.
Cedric Lachenal, "“In 15 Minutes” ," Dialogue 34:3 (2022): 33-34
NOTES AND REFERENCES
- Also referred to as the Ukrainian Institute of Arts and Sciences.
- The interview was conducted on July 14, 2022. Information was reviewed and updated in early August. As of October 21, the situation was stable; recent bombings did not cause any damage to the school’s infrastructure. A few classes are in session by Zoom, but no students are currently on campus.
- Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.