When Liliia Alieksanova ’25 arrived at Babson College last fall as a Global Scholar, she was homesick. She had left behind family and friends in her hometown of Cherkasy, Ukraine, roughly 4,600 miles from campus. She admits she wasn’t sure if she fit in, and she simply wanted to go home.
Now, her hometown is under siege by the Russian invasion, and she’s worried about her family’s survival. She constantly checks her phone, looking for texts from her mom, or consulting an app that tracks air attacks in Ukraine. She is attending protest rallies nearly every day and doing everything she can to make a difference here.
Alieksanova took another major step Tuesday in her burgeoning activism, organizing and leading a student march to support Ukraine. The midday rally under a Ukrainian blue sky on Babson’s campus attracted nearly 200 students, faculty, and staff from Babson, Olin College, and Wellesley College.
The outpouring of support for Ukraine left an indelible impression on the once-homesick, 18-year-old, first-year student.
“Right now, when I see people who care, I see that those people are my people, and I am also part of this community, and they are part of my community,” Alieksanova said. “It’s really inspiring to see that people care, that people trust you, that people want you to lead them to do good things for the world, to stop the evil.”
March of Solidarity
With a Ukraine flag draped over her shoulders and a bullhorn in hand, Alieksanova marched down Babson College Drive, leading the sign-carrying crowd in an array of chants, including the Ukrainian national salute that translates to “Glory to Ukraine” and elicits the response, “Glory to the heroes!”
The march from the Babson World Globe to Park Manor Quad is punctuated by Alieksanova’s proud, authoritative voice and echoes from the crowd: “Hands off Ukraine!” “Stop the war!” “Action! Now!” “Stand with Ukraine!”
At Park Manor Quad, several Babson students addressed the crowd, including Danyil Kovalenko ’23; Curtis Johnson ’23, president of the Black Student Union; Shannu Channa ’24, a Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) student leader; and Yan Sosa ’24 of Origins of Necessary Equality (ONE).
As the final scheduled speaker, Alieksanova shared the moving and heartfelt story of her family, and implored the attendees to take action, directing them to resources to help Ukraine. “You do have power,” she told the crowd. “You’re strong enough to stop Putin, even being so far away from Ukraine.”
Alieksanova is one of three Babson students from Ukraine, along with Kovalenko and Kateryna Ushmaieva ’25. Alieksanova and Ushmaieva recently were featured on the local news for the bond they have developed at Babson.
“Right now, I feel a huge support from them. I feel that we’re really close to each other right now. Because we’re all going through all of these horrible events,” Alieksanova said. “I’m just really glad to be not alone here speaking up.”
Heartbreak at Home
Alieksanova juggles her newfound activism with her college studies. In fact, she had a venture presentation in her Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship (FME) class Tuesday morning before leading the rally against the war.
Her primary focus, though, remains on her family in Cherkasy, Ukraine—a city of nearly 280,000 people, located about 117 miles southeast of Kyiv, the besieged capital. They have experienced a lot of bomb attacks, she says, but they are too far from the nearest bomb shelter, so they sleep in the bathroom of their apartment “and pray that the bomb won’t strike its target.”
“It’s just terrifying waking up at night or just sitting in a class and knowing that they have to hide right now somewhere,” Alieksanova said.
“It’s just terrifying waking up at night or just sitting in a class and knowing that they have to hide right now somewhere.”
Liliia Alieksanova ’25, a Global Scholar from Cherkasy, Ukraine
As she scans her app for air attacks, she awaits word from home that everyone is alive. On Monday, her mother sent her a photo to inform her that she had married her longtime boyfriend. Alieksanova’s new stepfather said he couldn’t wait and risk missing a chance to marry her mom.
The invasion has created other divisions. Alieksanova recently checked on her father, who was born and raised in Uzbekistan, to make sure he was OK. “He responded to me with one phrase, ’Putin is a champion,’ ” she said. “So, I had to stop talking with him. I really can’t right now while my friends are at the border, fighting the soldiers, and he’s still supporting the enemy.”
Amid the heartbreaks, there are glimmers of hope. Her grandmother was born in Russia, so Alieksanova and her family primarily spoke Russian. Now, though, her 73-year-old grandmother has started speaking Ukrainian exclusively. “I’m really proud of that,” she said.
Empowered to Act
Alieksanova attended her first rally at the Massachusetts State House on February 24, the morning after Russia invaded Ukraine. “I had to leave the campus without literally having my breakfast,” she recalled.
Now, as Babson prepares for spring break next week, there is no pause for Alieksanova. She canceled a planned trip to visit her uncle in Canada. “I need to be here in Boston,” she said. “I need to take this time to do more stuff for Ukraine, for Ukrainians.”
She plans to attend more rallies, write articles, lobby government officials, and support the information war. After spring break, she will be working with other Babson student organizations to plan events to raise money for humanitarian causes.
Native Ukrainian and Global Scholar Liliia Alieksanova ’25 is taking action and catalyzing change. With a Ukraine flag draped over her shoulders and a bullhorn in hand, she led students, faculty, and staff in a campus march and rally in support of Ukraine. https://t.co/rjFrJRcN9J pic.twitter.com/DDf319KS9s
— Babson College (@babson) March 9, 2022
The rally on Babson’s campus provided a new spark of inspiration, she said, to keep fighting against the war.
“I’m really empowered. I didn’t expect such a huge outcome of people. It’s really amazing that the Babson, Olin, and Wellesley community cares about it,” Alieksanova said after the rally. “I started losing my hope. But, seeing all those people just really helped me to go back in this powerful mood, in the mood of doing some actions. So, I’m just really happy about it.”
By nightfall on the day she led the campus, Tomasso Hall was illuminated in blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
Babson stands with Alieksanova and Ukraine.