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Ukrainian Tulane Law grad finds himself on front lines in Kyiv

Published: Mar. 6, 2022 at 2:22 PM CST
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KYIV, Ukraine (WVUE) - Ivan Bondarchuk thought he understood the pressures of being a young attorney, and was coping well.

Having returned to his native Ukraine after nearly a year of study in New Orleans, the 2018 graduate of the Tulane University School of Law was a successful young professional. He had obtained his LL.M. Master’s degree in Energy and Environmental Law at Tulane, and was applying his knowledge and experience as head of the energy practice for a leading law group in Kyiv.

Life was challenging, but good. Bondarchuk was even planning a return trip to visit friends in New Orleans later this year.

But on Feb. 24, life changed for Bondarchuk and all Ukrainians, as Russian military forces launched an unprovoked attack and invasion of their homeland.

“I was born in Ukraine. I started my learning here. I got my first law degree here at the International University in Kyiv,” Bondarchuk said Sunday (March 6) in an exclusive remote interview with WVUE-Fox 8. “The US covered my fees for education in the US, so I enrolled (at) the Tulane School of Law.

“I spent about 10 months in New Orleans. I love the city. I still have a lot of friends there. ... But now, I don’t know when (I can visit again), due to the war actions in Ukraine.”

Bondarchuk and his lawyer colleagues were able to escape Kyiv on the first day of the invasion. And while news reports have not said yet the capital city is under Russian control, he said the tactics employed by the Russian military have made it nearly impossible to live there safely.

“Every day, tens and hundreds of rockets and bombs fall on the city,” Bondarchuk said. “So, they basically destroy everything.”

The invaders also have blocked entrances to major cities, to cut off citizens’ access to food, water and medical supplies.

“I assume it’s kind of psychological pressure on Ukrainian nation,” Bondarchuk said.

The Tulane alumnus and several colleagues from the Ukrainian bar association have made it their mission to keep the world informed about what really is happening within the country. They are documenting evidence of potential war crimes, advising Ukrainians of their legal rights and compiling information they hope will bring accountability to their attackers under international law.

“Russia really doesn’t choose a target to shoot,” he said. “Russian planes target houses, like residential housing. I don’t know why, I really don’t know why. Because in those places, there are no military forces.

“They destroy critical infrastructure. They try to destroy electric facilities.”

With his expertise in energy law and contracts, Bondarchuk is working to keep the lights on for Ukrainians. He has spent some of the past 11 days helping negotiate legal agreements to re-route his nation’s power grid sources to friendly European countries.

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Still, more help is needed, he said, if the invading forces sent by Russian president Vladimir Putin are to be repelled.

“(Russia) is a country that understands only force,” he said.

Bondarchuk said those looking to stand with Ukraine should encourage government leaders to impose a no-fly zone over his country, to ward off Russia’s incessant air strikes and give Ukrainian ground troops a fighting chance to hold their territory.

“Ukrainian troops are very motivated and brave,” he said, “but we need support to protect our air space.”

Bondarchuk also asked American supporters to boycott anything associated with Russia, even if it leads to higher gasoline prices in the United States.

“When you purchase one gallon of Russian oil, you are purchasing one gallon of Ukrainian blood,” he said.

Despite the heavy odds against them, Bondarchuk said the Ukrainian people are united in resisting the Russian attackers and reestablishing their independence.

“Collective attitude is a strong one,” he said. “In this case, I believe we will succeed.”

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