It was February 2022, and Uliana “Ulia” Klimchuk anxiously awaited a decision from the School of Drama. The Ukrainian native auditioned virtually for the program at the suggestion of a teacher. On Feb. 24, Director of Recruitment Quin Gordon pressed ‘send’ on an acceptance email that would remain unopened for weeks.
Fatefully, on the same day, Russia invaded and occupied parts of Ukraine. Klimchuk’s attention turned to the immediate impact of war. She spent long days volunteering in a refugee center in Varna, Bulgaria, where she was staying with her mother and brothers. They checked in often with her father, who remained home in Kyiv.
“I cried so much when I saw the email [from Gordon],” Klimchuk recalled. “I hadn’t cried that much since the start of the war.” It was an emotional decision to move 5,000 miles away during wartime. Still, Klimchuk’s father encouraged her to continue pursuing her dreams. At the end of the summer, she arrived in the States for the first time and traveled to Winston-Salem to begin her training.
Like many new college students, Klimchuk has balanced school, social life and maintaining a connection to her home. And she’s surprised by how easy it has felt most of the time.
“It’s easy to study because I love it so much and I feel so passionate,” she said, adding that keeping up with family and friends can be difficult, however. The tensions of war create uncertainty in every communication. “I never know when I get a call if it’s going to be bad or good,” she explained, sharing that she once hurriedly stepped out of class to answer a call from a family member, assuming the worst. It turned out they had simply confused the time difference.
Klimchuk described the war as a constant distraction but acknowledged that much of the world has moved on as Ukraine has faded from the news cycle. “It’s terrifying that people will forget,” she said.
The war has provided inspiration for Klimchuk’s own storytelling and for multicultural artistic collaboration with UNCSA peers. During the fall, she connected with Bella Howard (B.F.A. Filmmaking ’26). They, along with their all-female crew, created a short film called “День Незалежності” (“Happy Independence Day”). Spoken in Ukrainian with English subtitles, the film offers a first-hand account of the war from a Ukrainian native living abroad. It stars Klimchuk and a friend of hers who was visiting from Ukraine during the production.
Over the summer, Klimchuk and Israeli directing student Ron Weiss (B.F.A. Drama ’25, H.S. Drama ’21) have been working in Tel Aviv. Supported by a grant from the Semans Art Fund, a private foundation that provides funding to current UNCSA students for summer study, special projects, research, and performances, Weiss is directing a series of plays written by Klimchuk that explore their experiences with war.
This fall, she returned to campus to continue her training and create new art inspired by her experiences. Though the last year-and-a-half has been different from what she once imagined, Klimchuk feels abundant pride and admiration for her resilient home.
“People continue to follow their dreams, but it’s all in the hands of war. Life stopped for a moment, but then it goes on. This is what human beings do. We can’t stop existing. I’m grateful for the opportunities I have. I admire Ukraine’s bravery. And I am so proud to be Ukrainian.”
This article appeared in the 2023 issue of Scene.
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October 16, 2023