Plans materializing for Ukrainian exchange student and his girlfriend to study at Mizzou

University of Missouri exchange student Vlad Sazhen and his girlfriend, Alina, in the Carpathian region of Ukraine.
University of Missouri exchange student Vlad Sazhen and his girlfriend, Alina, in the Carpathian region of Ukraine.

Plans began to come together this week for Vlad Sazhen to remain at the University of Missouri and for his girlfriend, Alina, to join him here.

Alina received an email Wednesday that she had been admitted to MU, said Sazhen, an MU exchange student from Ukraine. The email initially went to her email spam filter, but she finally read it on Thursday.

"She received a waiver which covers non-residential fees," Sazhen said, adding there's "a big sum" remaining to cover.

His sponsor agency, World Learning, also has extended his status as an exchange student at least through the fall semester, while MU tries to establish him as a degree-seeking student.

"In such dark times, there's at least good news," Sazhen said.

More: University of Missouri working toward solutions for Ukrainian student, girlfriend

Sazhen and his girlfriend are from the beleaguered and battered Kharkiv, 25 miles from the Russian border. Alina and her father, as well as Sazhen's parents and sister, have migrated to Poltava, where it has been more safe so far.

MU International Student and Scholar Services is working on their behalf, seeking donors to raise funds to help Alina and other international students. A website for a Ukrainian Emergency Fund has been set up.

"A big 'thank you' to the Mizzou staff," Sazhen said.

When he bought a hoodie with a Mizzou logo when he arrived in Columbia, he said he initially considered it just a nice piece of merchandise.

"Now when I'm wearing it, I just feel so proud and grateful," he said.

Alina and her father plan to visit her grandmother in a village in the Sumy Oblast region in northeast Ukraine to do garden work, Sazhen said.

He's worried because there are a lot of Russian troops in the region and they will be out of contact by phone while they're there, he said.

His mother's brother, who is in his 50s, has been drafted into the Ukrainian Army, he said.

"Kharkiv is being shelled all the time," he said.

His grandmother is still in Kharkiv, caring for her cats. She has avoided harm so far, but Sazhen said a rocket hitting her house or nearby would destroy the house and everything and everyone in it.

"Rocket strikes are really random," he said.

The house of a friend in Kharkiv who joined the territorial defense forces has burned, he said.

He showed photos on his tablet computer of his former school in Kharkiv, destroyed by Russian shells and rockets.

"I don't know what my school did to them," he said.

He showed a video of a Russian missile strike on an apartment building in Odesa, then photos of the 28-year-old woman and her 3-month-old baby who died in the strike.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Sunday. President Joe Biden is asking Congress for $33 billion in additional military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine.

"I think it's right and very important," Sazhen said.

The weapons are needed quickly, he said.

"The faster they get to Ukraine, the closer we will be to victory," Sazhen said.

The assistance is welcome, said Irynka Hromotska, an MU photojournalism graduate student from Ukraine.

"I think this is a very logical move," Hromotska said. "The military assistance and the aid they're providing, it's the right move."

The Ukrainian military will take care of the rest, she said.

"I know the Ukrainian military will do everything in their power," Hromotska said. "They're doing great."

She's pleased with the response to the exhibit of the work of Ukrainian photographers she organized in Reynolds Journalism Institute, she said.

More: Scenes of Ukraine by Ukrainian photographers displayed in University of Missouri exhibit

"I'm very happy," she said about the exhibit. "People are walking in and out of the RJI lobby all the time, and Ukraine will always be on their radar, which always was the goal."

On a personal level, she's trying to determine her summer plans, she said.

Most of her family and her partner are in Lviv, her hometown. Her mother and sister are in Poland since the Russian invasion.

"It's still the same" for all of them, Hromotska said. "They're trying to live life. It's the most important thing right now. They're trying to get some sort of structure in new routines."

Roger McKinney is the education reporter for the Tribune. You can reach him at or 573-815-1719. He's on Twitter at @rmckinney9.

This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: MU effort for Ukrainian student and girlfriend is advancing