Ukrainian WKU student adjusts to life in southern Kentucky as her nation fights Russia
Mariia Novoselia came to Bowling Green as part of a global student exchange program in January 2022, but those plans changed after the Russian invasion of her homeland.
It’s been 15 months since the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, forcing thousands of Ukrainians to seek safety in other countries, and setting off a global crisis and displacing thousands.
One of those displaced Ukranians is Mariia Novoselia, a native of the southern city of Odesa, a port city that sits on the Black Sea. Novoselia is also a student at Western Kentucky University. She came to Bowling Green as part of a global student exchange program, in January 2022 but those plans changed as she learned the invasion of her country had begun.
Novoselia expected to stay in the U.S. for four months before returning home, but more than a year-and-a-half later she's adjusting to life in Bowling Green. She's in her third year at WKU and hopes to graduate with a degree in Journalism.
Speaking to WKU Public Radio, Novoselia said she never anticipated the duration of her visit to the United States, but she’s making the best of it.
“Back in January 2022, leaving Ukraine, I was sure I was going to be back in four months, I had no idea but I’m very happy to be here,” Novoselia said.
Due to the unique circumstances, Novoselia has been utilizing campus and city services aimed at providing resources for displaced individuals. The Resilient Refugee program is designed to support refugees, asylum-seekers, and displaced students. The program offers peer-to-peer navigator program to help new students acclimate to life on campus and in Bowling Green.
According to Novoselia, the navigator program provided her with support as she became familiar with the campus, the city of Bowling Green, and living in America.
“The navigator program started after I started at WKU, but really it's about connecting students to people who know things here, so that was always happening,” Novoselia said. “That’s something that WKU is great at, connecting people with people. So that was one resource, another thing that was helpful was our international advisor also connected us with the city’s international liaison."
In 2016, the city of Bowling Green created an international community liaison program designed to help the city’s growing international community connect and utilize citywide resources, educational courses, and an academy to help new Americans participate in local government. The program is headed by Leyda Becker, who works closely with members of the international community.
Novoselia said Becker was helpful when she arrived to connect her with community resources that were available and helped find a community service for a school project.
“She‘s been very helpful to us as a group and me personally,” Novoselia said. “As a group, we needed to do community service for our program so she helped us find opportunities and that was just January; that was the beginning. Something that’s constant is that the community of Bowling Green is always willing to help and is great at doing that.”
While Novoselia doesn’t categorize herself as a refugee or a resident of the U.S. She said her experiences have given her a perspective on the challenges refugees and immigrants face when coming to a new community where they do not know anyone. “
I was very lucky because I met wonderful people my first day being here,” Novoselia said. “But I can see how it would be difficult to start interacting with the community when you don't know anyone.”
Novoselia said she was fortunate to be a part of a program that provided housing, a meal plan, and medical services, but for refugees who are arriving in the U.S., those amenities might not be available or might be difficult to navigate.
“I was very lucky because I got here with most things ready for me, I knew where I was going to stay, I knew I had a meal plan, I knew I had medical insurance,” Novoselia said. “I was very privileged and lucky in that regard—absolutely. My situation was slightly different, the way I got here was slightly different, but if you are someone coming to a new country due to circumstances like war you may not have ready housing, you may not have a meal plan and you have to figure all those things out.”
The ability to drive and own a car is an issue that has been raised by members of the international community in Bowling Green. Due to the lack of broad public transportation in Warren County, immigrants often struggle to find reliable means of transportation for employment opportunities. The purchase and upkeep of an automobile can also cause financial stress to an individual or family trying to find financial footing as they begin a life in a new community.
While she does not drive, Novoselia said that for a majority of people living in Bowling Green that rely on transportation for necessities like groceries or employment public transportation could be improved.
“I don’t have a driver's license, but I never had the desperate need for one,” Novoselia said. “But transportation is a big thing in Bowling Green. There is a public transportation system but it doesn't run all the time and can be hard to navigate if you need to be somewhere at a specific time. So public transportation could make it easier for people who don't have a car, and even for people who do have one.”
While Novoselia remains in Bowling Green she said she continues to reflect on the positive in the situation but admitted she does miss staples of her country, including buckwheat and traditional Ukrainian borscht that she enjoyed with her family.
“I haven't had it in a while, Novoselia. “In my family, we probably had it once a week but I haven't had it ever since I came here. But I keep thinking that I should try to make it.”
For now, Novoselia said her focus is on graduating from WKU and beginning her career in journalism but would like to return to her country when it’s safe.
“At some point in the future, I would love to return,” Novoselia said. “I miss it a lot and I don't know when it's going to happen. But currently, the only plans I have are to continue my studies, and that's all I know right now, but I’m sure it will work out in the best way.”
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