Amid tensions, LHU professor plans trip to Ukraine

If it weren’t for the threat of war over the Ukrainian peninsula Crimea, Rick Schulze’s planned trip to teach for a week in the capital of Kiev otherwise would be nothing more than an exciting academic opportunity. Instead, it could be cause for concern.

Schulze has been an associate professor of health science at Lock Haven University since 2002. On March 14, he plans to leave for Ukraine to teach a course on health promotion at the Academician Yuriy Bugay International Scientific and Technical University. A colleague, Dr. Tara L. Mitchell, of the psychology department, is expected to accompany him and lecture on pain management.

Schulze taught in Ukraine before. From January to June in 2005, he taught health at the Lugansk State Medical University on a Fullbright scholarship. Lugansk is on the eastern side of the country, near the Russian border. When he was there, he made friends and colleagues, some of whom he’s been in contact with since tensions arose between Ukraine and Russia when Russian military forces invaded Crimea following the impeachment of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych amidst a revolution.

According to Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Yanukovych asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to use his country’s armed forces “to establish legitimacy, peace, law and order, stability and defending the people of Ukraine.”

Schulze’s friends in Ukraine tell a different story.

“They say that many of the agitators in Crimea have been bused in from Russia, that the buses have Russian plates,” Schulze said.

Schulze said his Ukrainian colleagues consider the Russian invasion of Crimea an act of war.

Though Schulze has his concerns, he trusts his friends, who told him that he won’t be putting himself in any danger, adding that Kiev is a long way from Crimea.

But he said if tensions escalate by the time he’s scheduled to leave, he’ll take a loss on his plane ticket.

“Frankly, if things spread within the next week, we will cancel,” Schulze said. “There’s no use putting our lives in danger.”

Schulze wishes the Obama administration were handling the crisis differently.

“I wish they were a little more aggressive,” he said. “But, of course, we know very little at this point. Hopefully, when John Kerry arrives in Ukraine today he can help unite some of the European countries and decide what to do.”

Schulze has fond memories of his time in Ukraine. While there he vacationed at the Crimean resort Yalta and got a chance to see the Big Three conference table where President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin discussed an agenda for Europe following the end of World War II in 1945.

Schulze spoke highly of the people he met in Ukraine.

“I found the people very giving and very easy to get along with,” he said. “There were some that expressed anti-American sentiments to me, but for the most part, everyone was pleasant and happy to meet an American.”