International students from conflict countries weigh in on Ukraine

A screenshot from my zoom interview with Mostafa Sharkawy - Keshav Vinod.
A screenshot from my zoom interview with Mostafa Sharkawy. Photo by Keshav Vinod

By Keshav Vinod

The United States has long been a premier destination for many to come and pursue their higher education. Students come from all around the world in order to try and pursue the American dream and this means staying away from their home country for extended periods of time. While they’re here, they try and keep a tether to their country and try not to lose that connection. This is why it is all the more heartbreaking for them when something tragic happens in their country and all they can do is look on.

The attempted occupation of Ukraine by Russian forces isn’t a unique situation. Over the course of history, there have been multiple power struggles and land seizures perpetrated by powerhouse countries over weaker ones. Spanish conquistadores and the British empire are just a couple of examples of inquisitions.

While these took place hundreds of years ago, occupation seems to be an issue that stood the test of time. Even in the modern world, we have territories that are either seized by a different county or are the focal point in a war between two countries. Jammu and Kashmir and Bhutan are some modern-day examples of the same issue.

The most prominent and one that comes to mind the most is, of course, the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Perhaps to most violent of the new era, it has been going on for almost 100 years and has its roots grounded in religion. There are quite a few parallels that can be drawn between the Ukraine invasion and the situation in Palestine.

For Palestinian people across the globe empathizing with the Ukrainian people will come fairly easy due to s similar struggle: a conflict that completely violates international law, severe crimes against humanity, and the process of an illegal occupation.

“My family and I were really following the news that was coming of Ukraine for the first few days and we couldn’t help but feel for them. While I personally was lucky enough to not experience the same struggle, I know many many people who have lived through occupation,” said Aseel Howry. An alumnus of the University of Cincinnati and comes from Palestinian heritage. “Your home is everything, it’s the recollection of who you are. Once you lose your home you have to rebuild yourself mentally, physically, and financially.”

Photo sourced from Aseel’s Instagram – Keshav Vinod.

While the situations are somewhat similar in both countries, the media coverage has widely been dissimilar. There have been multiple instances where stark differences in the coverage can be seen and it is blatantly and unequivocally a double standard.

The war in Ukraine will have rather a large impact on many countries in the Middle East, especially regarding oil prices. For Egyptians, this conflict is sure to have dire impacts on their economy as well as their foreign policy. It is also predicted to impact their wheat distribution. Egypt is the world’s largest importer of wheat and relies heavily on Ukrainian supplies.

While these issues are more for the government to tackle, there has been a massive outpour of support from the Egyptian population. As a country that has been through its own civil war, it is not hard to find similarities between the two countries.

The Arab Spring is a massive movement that took place in North Africa. The movement first began in Tunisia in late December 2010 and quickly spread to neighboring countries. The most famous of these encounters that make up the Arab Spring in Egypt.

After mounting an effort against then-leader Hosni Mubarak and fighting off pro-Mubarak thugs, the Egyptian people were able to oust the dictator after he ruled with an iron fist for over 30 years. The efforts to get to that stage are etched in every Egyptian’s mind and are widely regarded as Egypt’s Berlin Wall moment.

“I was fairly young when the revolution took place but I live quite close to Cairo so our area was affected as well. Even at 12 or 13, I clearly remember hearing gunshots all the time,” says Ahmed Tarek, an international student from Egypt studying at Boston University. “I had a few cousins and some of my older brothers’ friends go and join the resistance and their stories from that time are things I will never forget.”

A screenshot from my zoom interview with Ahmed Tarek – Keshav Vinod.

It is with the will of revolution and resistance of the Ukrainian people that Egyptians can relate a lot. While the overall situations may be similar, the basic outcome that Ukraine wants is to peel Russian forces which is what the Egyptians wanted against the pro-Mubarak militia that slaughtered their own countrymen.

There are many students in the Boston area that come from conflict countries like Egypt. They have even joined in on the various rallies that were organized by students at various campuses across Boston as a sign of support.

“My freshman roommate was born in the US but his grandfather had moved here way back when. We were still rooming together when the invasion went underway and I could just tell what he was feeling. It was so similar to what I was feeling when the Arab Spring took place,” says Mostafa Sharkwy, an international student from Alexandria, Egypt studying at Boston College. “I can definitely empathize with all the Ukrainians right now. We went through s fairly similar situation and it breaks my heart to see what’s going on there. I just hope the country can recover, unlike Egypt.”

About Keshav Vinod 4 Articles
Keshav is a graduate student at Emerson College majoring in journalism. Originally from Dubai, he moved to the U.S. because of his desire to be a journalist and is set to join Nexstar Media Group at their Fox and ABC affiliate WFFF-TV 44/WVNY-TV 22 in Burlington, VT.