Ukraine backers want University of North Georgia to drop Russia event

A group of Ukrainians and their supporters want the University of North Georgia to cancel an educational event spotlighting Russian culture.

The school’s Center for Global Engagement is hosting several gatherings and workshops to celebrate International Education Week. The activities include a Wednesday event, dubbed “Rush into Russian,” in which participants can learn about the university’s Russian program, write their names in Russian cursive and sample Russian food, according to the center’s website.

Roughly 100 people signed a petition, sent last week to President Bonita Jacobs, urging the university to cancel the event. The letter states that members of Georgia’s Ukrainian community “are deeply concerned and outraged about the fact that the University of North Georgia is encouraging its students and faculty to advertise and promote Russian culture at a time when Russia has launched a full-scale war on its neighboring country.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine has killed more than 6,000 civilians and forced about 8 million people to flee the country, according to United Nations data.

“In times like this, hearing about an event promoting Russian culture is simply appalling,” the letter states.

The university, one of six senior military colleges, issued a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in response.

“Our university offers a variety of language programs that the U.S. Department of Defense deems as strategic for students, including our cadets, to develop language skills, build regional expertise and create cultural competency. Russian is one of those strategic languages. The University of North Georgia participates in International Education Week annually by highlighting our language programs; this year, our events focus on our programs in Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, and Russian,” read the statement, in full.

Other events listed on this week’s schedule include bubble tea tasting during “A Taste of Taiwan,” a soccer and World Cup-themed event to learn about Latin America and Spain, and a Korean coffee and language event.

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

Olga Gorman, who is not affiliated with the university, moved to Atlanta about a year ago from Ukraine and has helped lead local rallies in support of her homeland. She said she shared the petition on social media and quickly amassed dozens of signatures.

On Thursday, a day after Gorman sent the petition to the university, she received a response nearly identical to the school’s public statement. The email, which Gorman provided to the AJC, also thanked her “for expressing your concerns.”

Said Gorman: “It’s like an answer without an answer.”

Supporters gathered Monday at the Dahlonega campus to protest the Russian event and also to celebrate Ukrainian culture.

Dobrusia Bialonska, an associate professor of environmental microbiology at the university, said she was not involved in the protest but helped organize a cultural celebration that took place afterwards. Bialonska, who is Polish, said the Ukrainian event was held independently of the other activities taking place during the university’s week-long international celebration.

“I believe that the least we can do is to promote the culture and celebrate the culture so they don’t feel isolated, so they feel appreciated,” she said.