Cultural Exchange Program Volunteers Find Students at Center of Russia-Ukraine Crisis

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Two years ago, Katerina Manoff founded ENGin to help young Ukrainians learn English via video chat.

But today, the threat of war has changed the tone of the weekly virtual meetings that happen between thousands of students and volunteers.

“Now, instead of thinking about growing our program and helping more students and reaching more volunteers, we're just thinking, how are we going to survive? Our team members could be in danger. Our students could be in danger. It's all very uncertain. We don't know what's going to happen next,” said Manoff.

Among them is 23-year-old Alla Kuliechova, who said, like many, she tries to get distracted by things other than the looming invasion.

"We try not to focus on it, because you know, it kind of hangs over your head anyway,” said Kuliechova.

While rumors swirl about a possible attack on her hometown of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, she said life continues as normal.

At the same time, she's found herself searching for nearby bomb shelters and ways to get her family to safety.

"It's very much a concern. I have been thinking about possible routes abroad. We don't have that many relatives abroad. So, there's not really much space to run,” she said.

It's a reality Kuliechova hopes will serve as a reminder to the world that she and her fellow Ukrainians are much more than pawns.

"It often feels dehumanizing, because it's just discussing Ukraine as some kind of obscure pawn in a game between the West and Russia, and we are people. I worry for my family there. You know, there are lives at stake," said Kuliechova.

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