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Area college student escapes war in Ukraine on path to study in Scranton

Serhii Kuzmin Jr.
Byron Maldonado, University of Scranton
Serhii Kuzmin Jr. sits outside the University of Scranton's Gateway sign

When Serhii Kuzmin Jr. was in eighth grade in Ukraine he started to think about his future.

He found a YouTuber who moved to the United States, inspiring him to perfect his English.

He graduated from high school in June 2021 and took a gap year to search for a college or university in the United States. Then on Feb. 24, he woke up at 4 a.m. in his hometown of Kharkiv to the sound of explosions. The Russian invasion of Ukraine had begun.

“When I heard my father saying that ... our life has taken another direction. I was like ... yeah, the war started," he said.

Four days later Serhii, his mother and father grabbed two suitcases and began the process to find refuge in Germany. They secured documents and permissions needed to escape — including Kuzmin’s exemption from military service — then drove across the border into Germany. The family was given housing in a one-room World War II bomb shelter. His family thought they’d only be away from their home country for two weeks, he said.

Beginning this week, the 18-year-old is at his new home as a freshman on the University of Scranton’s campus and far from the fighting in Ukraine and his family in Germany.

On Ukrainian Independence Day, Aug. 24, he sat outside the university’s library. It was sunny and warm. Kuzmin wore shorts and a gray T-shirt with the words "SCRANTON" in purple across his chest.

“I pulled up the description section and ... the first thing I saw it was that the University of Scranton is a Jesuit Catholic University, which was just a perfect fit for me because of the because of the ideology, because of the philosophy," he said.

His mother is a teacher who introduced and encouraged her son’s interest in philosophy.

Back in Germany with internet access, Kuzmin found out he was admitted to the university’s class of 2026 to study computer science. The university is also providing financial assistance.

Kuzmin checks in on his friends in Ukraine. The last he heard his home, near the initial front lines of the fighting, is still intact but his school in Kharkiv is destroyed.

His parents are hoping to find a sponsor in Canada or the United States to move closer to their son.

Kuzmin is feeling relief and sadness to be in the United States. He misses Ukraine and his hometown.

“It likes hits heavy because … your country is fighting for its survival. And you see … these pictures of the destroyed buildings, especially in your hometown … it makes me feel like I'm in pain … It really hurts," he said.

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.