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Meet Anastasiia Baydyuk, SIS Graduate Student Speaker

Ahead of the 2024 SIS Spring Commencement ceremony on May 11, we spoke with this year’s graduate student speaker, Anastasiia Baydyuk, SIS/MA ’24.

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When Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, Anastasiia Baydyuk, SIS/MA ’24, was living in Ukraine with her family.

In just a matter of hours, everything changed. As Russia launched its war in Ukraine, Baydyuk, who was admitted to graduate school at SIS before the invasion began, started coordinating logistics for humanitarian aid and ensuring supplies were getting to the frontlines, where both her husband and stepfather were fighting at the start of the war.

As the war raged, Baydyuk was confronted with a difficult decision: would she attend graduate school at SIS as planned, or stay in Ukraine to support the war effort?

“I was very hesitant to leave my family in the trenches and go to the US and study, but at the same time, I realized that by doing so, I am investing in the future of my country, and I will still be able to help them even from far away,” Baydyuk said.

Baydyuk is the graduate student speaker for the 2024 SIS spring commencement ceremony on May 11. We sat down with Baydyuk to hear more about her journey at SIS ahead of this year’s ceremony. 

Finding a Path to SIS

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Baydyuk was working toward her bachelor’s degree in Chinese Linguistics from Zhejiang University in China. She moved home to Ukraine as the pandemic swept across the world in 2020 and completed her studies online.

Moving home opened the door to a new opportunity for Baydyuk with the National Agency of Ukraine on Civil Service, where she became an intern in the International Affairs Department. The internship gave Baydyuk real-world experience in policy issues, including NATO and EU integration matters for Ukraine.

When Russia’s invasion began, Baydyuk transitioned into humanitarian aid work with charitable organizations focused on supporting soldiers on the frontlines. In the midst of the war, Baydyuk’s future seemed uncertain.

Anastasiia Baydyuk sits at a table with sign that says “My economic situation changed very significantly with the start of the invasion, and I was no longer able to pay for the [SIS master’s] degree the way I was planning to,” Baydyuk shared. “But the stars aligned, and I got the full Martin H. Steiner scholarship that it made it possible for me to come to the US and study.”

The Martin H. Steiner Scholarship Fund was established in 2013 to honor the memory of Martin H. Steiner, SIS/MA ’92, by supporting SIS master’s students who are preparing for careers in diplomacy and foreign service.

With the scholarship in hand, Baydyuk made the difficult decision to leave Ukraine to attend graduate school at SIS.

Studying Peace

While at SIS, Baydyuk was a student in the International Peace and Conflict Resolution program. When she was searching for graduate schools and programs, Baydyuk said the IPCR program “immediately resonated” with her because it aligned with her personal purpose for pursuing the degree: “It's not to develop international relations. It's not even solely for security-related matters. It is really about peace for me, and it is about resolving conflict and not just freezing it and then waiting for it to erupt again.”

Studying peace while her country was at war was often difficult, Baydyuk explained. On top of balancing coursework and projects for her graduate degree, she was also grieving the loss of family members and friends in Ukraine.

“There were scenarios where, for example, my city would get hit with like 50 rockets, and the whole power grid is down and there's no electricity, so there's no way for me to call my family and see if they're alive or not, and I wouldn’t hear from them until the next day, but I still had to be in class and talk about Ukraine,” Baydyuk explained. “Or there were times when I would fly back home to bury a friend and then have to come back to class.”

“It was like war was on my shoulder still, even as I went to class,” Baydyuk added.

Amid the weight of the war and the grief she felt, Baydyuk also found support in the SIS community. Baydyuk’s classes provided a place to “channel her frustration and anger” over the war “toward resolving the conflict.”

“This degree was very difficult to study at this time from a psychological perspective, but at the same time, I had a place to vent,” Baydyuk said. “I had a very, very positive experience with a lot of wonderful connections that I made here—my professors, my classmates, and the alumni community. It was awesome to see people like me dedicated to a particular cause and doing so many things in order to contribute to that cause.”

Baydyuk emphasized that her experience at SIS was more than just “showing up to class and doing homework.” During her time in the IPCR program, she had the opportunity to travel Northern Ireland for a practicum and interact with survivors of The Troubles at the WAVE Trauma Centre, which allowed her to see “life after conflict in a context other than Ukraine.”

“It was a very difficult but very useful experience,” she said. “Being able to talk to victims and survivors in Northern Ireland and see what efforts are being done on the ground in order to help those people transition from war to peace helps me understand how my country is going to get out of our conflict and what needs to be done to help people transition out of that stage.”

Commencement and Beyond

During her speech at Commencement, Baydyuk plans to share about her experience in Ukraine during Russia’s invasion and the choices she was forced to make. She will also discuss the importance of being flexible, resourceful, and open-minded.

“Hopefully the speechAnastasiia Baydyuk wears a Ukrainian flag and holds a dog during a gathering of students will resonate with people making choices coming out of SIS, because we live in a world full of uncertainty,” Baydyuk said. “My speech, hopefully, is going to give people reassurance and confidence to step out in the world and follow the calling and do what needs to be done.”

In the long term, Baydyuk plans to eventually enter a career in diplomacy and will continue advocating for Ukraine. Her advice for incoming SIS master’s students is to keep an open mind and take advantage of AU’s location in DC.

“Get out there, learn as much as you can, and get out of your comfort zone,” Baydyuk said. “I know we all come in with a certain field of interest that may or may not be narrow. In my case, it was Ukraine and everything Ukraine-related, and unless I saw Ukraine on the panel that I was planning to attend, I just wouldn't attend it. But over time, that has evolved because I started seeing how interconnected everything is in this world. And so, recognizing that interconnectedness and being willing to learn everything and then pick out what's most necessary for your particular context or your field of interest is my advice.”