USF student from Ukraine set to graduate despite challenges from war, pandemic

Graduation day at the University of South Florida will be extra special for a marketing student who overcame challenges from the pandemic and impacts from the war in Ukraine.

Originally from Ukraine, Danylo Solomentsev’s walk across the stage to receive his bachelor’s degree Friday will be six years in the making.

"My journey was actually long and a bit complicated, because I entered USF when I was 16 back in 2017," said Solomentsev.

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He studied at USF until the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, so he returned home and paused his studies. During that time, he was working back home in the marketing field, getting an understanding of what he's already learned and what he needs to improve. 

By January 2022, Solomentsev was back on USF's campus to finish his degree, only to learn his family in Kiev and Donetsk were now dealing with war against Russia.

"It’s challenging because there is danger of your friends dying or your family dying and everything," he said. "Only my mom left. She is a war refugee in Bratislava, which is the capital of Slovakia. So everybody else is staying home and doing their best."

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So Solomentsev did his best on this side of the world, teaming up with Ukrainian and Russian friends on campus to raise money.

"This issue is more global than it seems to be, because it affects a lot," he said.

They ended up fundraising more than $7,000 to help with humanitarian aid.

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"We were like asking for $5 donation in exchange of a bracelet or something," said Solomentsev. "For people in the US to buy something for $5. It's not that much because people buy coffee for $5 or $7 a cup. But back there, the money works differently. You can make some impact just by just posting those dollars."

Now at 22 years old, Solomentsev said he’s thankful to get the opportunity to finish his diploma.

"It's almost impossible to build any plans for future because my plan, I was supposed to be back in Ukraine already. I was supposed to be back into Ukraine working. But now there is no home to come back to," he said. "My family members now don't have electricity for 14 hours a day, and sometimes they don't have it for days."

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While danger lingers in Ukraine, Solomentsev plans to keep overcoming obstacles until he can return home.

"I would like to enter the master’s program if they would accept me, of course. Also, I would like to work part-time at least," said Solomentsev about his upcoming educational goals at USF. He also completed a second bachelor’s degree through online courses in Ukraine.

USF will award more than 4,500 degrees during the fall commencement Friday and Saturday.