Office of the President
March 9, 2022

Dear William Paterson Community,

I have typically stayed away from commenting on global events because, given the many challenges in our world, I felt if I did, I could spend all my time writing to you about the various events impacting people everywhere. But because the situation in Ukraine presents such a dramatic likelihood of permanently reordering our world, I am breaking here with that tradition. 

I have been struggling to write about the situation in Ukraine because there are no words. No words that are powerful or precise enough to describe what is happening to its citizens -- the intellectuals, journalists, artists, orphans, women, students -- and all those who comprise the brave resistance that is fighting the senseless aggression of a privileged man trying to return to the “glory days” of the former Soviet Union. I am, in fact, speechless. In a world where there is, unfortunately, no shortage of examples of human suffering, the war in Ukraine is notable for its scale, its brazenness, and its potential for truly catastrophic consequences, both in and far beyond Ukraine.

It is also very personal for me. My very close friend Igor Roussanoff was born in Kyiv and still has many friends there. Igor was instrumental in getting my ballet company at the time to be the first University company to perform in the famed National Opera House in Kyiv. When I reflect on my time there, I think of the people, as well as the beautiful history of the city and its magnificent museums and churches. To see the destruction that is being inflicted there is soul crushing. Yet, I also know full well the spirit and the strength of my friend Igor and the spirit and strength of all the Ukrainians who embraced me and my students during our visit. While this is a terrible, terrible time for them, I know that, in the end, they will not be defeated. Russia may take their land and resources, for now, but it will never take the spirit and the hearts of the Ukrainian people.  

This war may seem distant to many of us, but we should bear in mind that these are people who, like us, are fighting to protect their democracy, including the right to free and fair elections in their country. If we think our democracy could never be taken from us, including  through the use of violence, we need only look to Ukraine and then consider both the January 6th domestic attack on the Capitol, which sought to overturn a free and fair election, and now the various laws and pending legislation that seek to restrict voting rights. It is occurring right here, in the greatest democracy the world has known. In light of the terrible events in Ukraine, as well as everywhere people suffer at the hands of tyranny and repression, let us recommit ourselves to the fight for voting rights and free and fair elections in the name of equity and social justice, not just here at home, but everywhere. And, yes, this will come at a cost to us all in the form of higher gas prices, fewer goods available on store shelves, and escalating costs. But I would hope that if the American people were hunkered down in bomb shelters with our families and pets or fleeing our boarders into the unknown, the world would step up to help.     

In these times, it is often the artists and journalists who find creative ways to shine a light on what is happening, comment, and get the word out when repressive forces are at play. I encourage you to listen to this piece spearheaded by Professor Rob Quicke and our own award-winning Brave New Radio, who led a campaign by college radio stations from around the world to stand in support of Ukraine.  

And, finally, below is a picture of my dear friend Igor with me at my Investiture here at William Paterson in 2018. I think of him and all Ukrainians every day during this terrible, terrible time for the country of his birth.  

Slava Ukraini/Glory to Ukraine!

Richard J. Helldobler, Ph.D.
Office of the President | 973.720.2222 |