Student Achievement

From Ukraine to the Hudson Valley, International Student Bridges Worlds Through Art and Activism

Michelle Eggink, Assistant Director of Content Marketing & Communications
Karina Syrota ’26 in front of Marist Rotunda. Photo by Nelson Echeverria/Marist College.

“When I first got to Marist, I didn’t want people to associate me with war, but then I realized it’s a part of me and my biography. For people to actually know me, they have to know that there is war in Ukraine.”
- Karina Syrota '26

April 9, 2024 — "I’m hearing explosions."

"There are bombings in Kyiv."

"There are missile attacks in Dnipro."

These are the texts international student Karina Syrota '26 received as Russia started a full-scale invasion of her country of Ukraine in 2022. She would soon find out her hometown was under siege and her life would never be the same.

Uprooted by war and facing uncertainty, Karina wasn't deterred from pursuing her future. Today, the sophomore with a major in computer science is not only studying her passions in the Honors Program, but she's sharing her love of her country with the Marist community as a playwright and Student Government Association officer.

Image of Karina in Hancock Center.

Karina in Marist Hancock Center. Photo by Nelson Echeverria/Marist College.

Resilience as a Refugee and Finding Marist

A year before war raged in her hometown, Karina’s dreams of studying abroad in the United States were starting to take off. A Ukrainian friend who studied in the Hudson Valley suggested Karina look into Marist because of the computer science program. After learning as much as she could about Marist online, she fell in love with the campus and applied.

When the full-scale invasion began, Karina was on a gap year traveling for the first time without her parents. She found herself displaced, confused, and scared. Her parents and two siblings were able to escape Ukraine and meet her in Romania before they all found refuge at a family friend’s place in the United States.

Welcomed into the Red Fox Family

Karina with Ukrainian flag at Marist (left). Karina in Class of 2026 Marist t-shirt (right).

Karina with Ukrainian flag at Marist (left). Karina in Class of 2026 Marist t-shirt (right). Photos courtesy of Karina Syrota.

Amid tragedy in her home country, Karina felt welcomed into the Marist community, which checked in with her before she was admitted and continues to do so today.

“It's amazing how much people at Marist care," she said.

“Karina is a resilient and optimistic spirit and there were many reasons the Admission Committee was compelled to admit and welcome her to the Marist family,” said Joe Giacalone, Executive Director of International Admission. "During the application process, she was living through an extraordinary time for her country and her life. Despite these challenges, she persisted and continues to live and model the Marist mission."

Described by many as a bubbly, intelligent, and compassionate leader, Karina continues to transform her hardships into action, according to those who know her.

Karina Raises Awareness for Ukraine

As the two-year anniversary of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine approached in February of this year, Karina felt called to honor her people in a meaningful way.



Karina worked with her Ukrainian friends abroad and faculty member Dr. James Snyder to showcase a special display in the Murray Student Center. The Unissued Diplomas exhibition uncovers the stories of Ukrainian students who will never graduate because their lives were lost in the war. Some of the students featured were Karina’s friends from her gap year program called Ukrainian Leadership Academy.

“I wanted to connect Marist students with real people who are the same age as us,” Karina said. “There are five people I know in this project who died in the war, so it was especially important for me to share their stories and show students here how real and close war can be.”

After the Unissued Diplomas display, Karina held an on-campus showing of the Academy Award-winning documentary 20 Days in Mariupol. The film is a gripping chronicle of the harrowing struggles of civilians amidst the intense conflict in the first 20 days of the besieged city of Mariupol.

“I watched the first 15 minutes of the documentary by myself but then realized I couldn’t watch it alone, so I invited the Marist community to watch it with me,” Karina said. “When we hear about war we often think about politics and distant numbers of deaths and casualties, but we don’t connect to the civilians who are going through it. It was powerful and emotional to watch this documentary alongside my classmates and to hear ‘thank you’ for showing them what’s going on for Ukrainian people.”

Image of pop-up event for Ukraine.

Pop-up jewelry event at Marist to support Ukraine. Photo courtesy of Karina Syrota.

Karina has also worked with Marist adjunct professor and academic advisor, Sandra Slokenbergs to assist in jewelry pop-ups in support of Ukraine. The initiative has raised over $44,000 for first aid supplies for civilians and the Ukrainian army.

While the weight of war is heavy, Karina carries on with strength and creativity.

Art and Activism

Channeling her emotions about war into art and activism, Karina is part of Young Playwrights Ukraine. She’s written three screenplays about the multifaceted experiences and emotions of war, “Advice,” “Orchid,” and “BOOM." Her play "Advice" was performed in Stockholm, Sweden at the Orion Theatre last spring and her play "Orchid" will be performed in New York City on May 6 at Vineyard Theatre. The play is a part of the show, "THIS IS NOT A DREAM" — a reading of nine 10-minute plays by Young Playwrights Ukraine.

She also recently was accepted into the Marist Playwrights Festival, meaning her play “BOOM” was chosen to be shown at the Marist Nelly Goletti Theater by Marist student directors and actors.

Karina Keeps Giving

Image of Karina and other students at Hackathon

Daisy Kopycienski '24 (left), Karina Syrota '26 (middle) and Christian Sarmiento '25 (right) at the Marist Computer Society Programming Hackathon.

Karina is a dedicated Honors student, Honor’s Resident Assistant (RA), and Dean’s Circle member along with her computer science major with a concentration in programming and game design and a minor in graphic design.

“Karina has many dimensions to her, from computer science to playwriting,” said Dr. James Synder, Dean for Academic Engagement. “She is not only engaged deeply in her major, but she is also challenging herself in our Honors Program, has stepped up to play an important role as a leader and mentor for first-year Honors students, and is on the cusp of starting her undergraduate research projects with faculty mentors. Simply put, Karina inspires and surprises me.”

Recently promoted from international representative to Vice President of Student Life for the Student Government Association, Karina now oversees all student groups (on-campus students, commuters, transfers, etc.), ensuring every student feels represented, comfortable, and heard at Marist.

“Before Marist, a lot of people told me to choose just one thing to succeed in, but I don’t believe in this,” said the honors student. “Here, I’m encouraged to explore all my interests. One day I plan to combine all of my skills and interests to create a social project or business to help other people.”

Karina with other international students.

Karina with fellow international students by the Hudson River on campus. Photo courtesy of Karina Syrota.

Karina is also actively involved in the Marist International Student Association, which she refers to as her "family" at Marist.

“We are fortunate to have Karina as a part of our student body, and the Marist community greatly benefits from her presence,“ said Lesly Garcia, Director of International Student Services.” Karina has consistently demonstrated strong leadership skills and a genuine commitment to giving back and helping her fellow classmates. Her unwavering willingness to take on challenges is truly commendable, and it is evident that her efforts have a positive impact on all those around her.“

While it’s been over two years since Karina has returned to her home country of Ukraine, she continues to make a huge impact on her second home at Marist and beyond.

“I feel it’s my mission to spread the word about Ukraine and to speak up for those who can’t,” said Karina. “At Marist, we have the opportunity to explore different cultures and get curious about what’s going on with other places and people. We are all here for a reason.”

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