Professor Natalia Levina Speaks on Ukraine at an NYU Community Discussion

We at the Jordan Center stand with all the people of Ukraine, Russia, and the rest of the world who oppose the Russian invasion of Ukraine. See our statement here.

The speech below was part of “What Is Happening in Ukraine, and Why? A Discussion with the NYU Community.” You can read more about the event here.

Natalia Levina is a professor in NYU’s Stern School of Business. Born in Kharkiv, Ukraine, she came with her family to the US at the age of 18.

When I used to introduce myself at the beginning of my courses at NYU, many of my students could not have identified Ukraine on a map of Europe. This semester, unfortunately, I didn’t need to show the map anymore.

In the past, when I would introduce myself to students, nobody knew what Kharkiv was, either. Home to 2 million people, Kharkiv is the educational center of Ukraine, responsible for many scientific advances over the past 100 years. It is roughly the size of Philadelphia or Phoenix. Here are a few pictures of the city before and after the barbaric actions of Putin’s army.

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I grew up in this city. Countless memories are tied to the main city square, which has now been bombed. Yesterday, I learned that my own childhood home was also bombed from the air and burned to the ground.

Given the atrocious aerial attacks on Kharkiv over the last week, many of you may be wondering: why have residents not left the city yet? When I was growing up in Ukraine, I remember wondering why people — including Jewish people — stayed behind in an occupied Kharkiv during the Second World War when they knew Nazis were killing and burning civilians. Unfortunately, I learned the answer to this question in the last week.

Three of my aunts and many of my cousins still live in Kharkiv today. All are around 80 years old and too frail and sickly to evacuate to Western Ukraine, to say nothing of Poland. My aunt Lena and aunt Alla are staying inside their Kharkiv apartments during the non-stop air bombardment because they are too frail to shelter in the basement or in subway stations like the people you see on TV. Aunt Lena, along with my mom, escaped the Nazi occupation by fleeing to Siberia when she was just two years old. Both women survived the war and returned to Kharkiv. It is unclear if my aunt will survive this war.

My cousins in Kharkiv will not leave because, while they are all civilians, they have signed up for the civil defense and will defend their city until they cannot any longer. When I call them to check in, they tell me they are busy making Molotov cocktails.

When your mom cannot leave, you cannot leave either. Your wife and children may be too scared to travel under missile fire without you. You may have no gasoline to make the journey. So, my whole family is still in Kharkiv and its suburbs. My aunts have no electricity or internet anymore. If something happens to them as the relentless bombardment of Kharkiv continues, their children won’t even know about it.

If you are wondering what you can do to help them, I am sure the people of Ukraine appreciate all the donations coming their way. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! Yet this is not enough. As president Zelensky said in his March 4 press conference — and he said it better than I can— those world governments that care about Ukraine should immediately provide it with the equipment necessary for the brave Ukrainian army to defend its own air.

Please reach out to your government representatives to ask they do this NOW! We cannot wait for Putin’s army to capture another nuclear reactor or bomb another city like my Kharkiv to the ground.