Law students from Ukrainian Catholic University learning at Notre Dame this spring

Author: Denise Wager

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Ukrainian Catholic University students, from left, Vitaliia Mahas, Adriana Hrytsyna, and Solomiia Humen are spending the spring 2023 semester at Notre Dame Law School. Photos by Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame.

The University of Notre Dame and Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) entered into an agreement in May 2022 to expand the existing partnerships between the two universities. One of the key additions was an exchange program for UCU undergraduate and graduate students.

This semester, Notre Dame Law School is hosting three law students from UCU — Adriana Hrytsyna, Solomiia Humen, and Vitaliia Mahas. They are part of a group of 18 UCU students, including 15 undergraduates, hosted by the University of Notre Dame this spring.

“The presence of these students enriches the Notre Dame community as well as the classrooms in which they engage. The resilience and sense of mission at UCU, which has been reinforced through the urgencies of the war, inspires and underscores the mission of the Law School. I remain grateful for this deepening collaboration with UCU,” said Monica Caro, the Law School’s program director for international and graduate programs.

In Ukraine, students start their law studies in an undergraduate program, and finish them in a master’s program. The entire program is five-and-a-half-years. The three exchange students are all third-year students (equivalent to a junior in college in the United States).

The three women are taking a full schedule of classes at the Law School, including: Jurisprudence: Foundation of Human Rights, Advanced Legal Research, Art and Cultural Heritage Law, Regulation of Social Media and Online Platforms, International Dispute Resolution, and International and Comparative IP Law.

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When they learned about the opportunity to come to the United States to study, specifically to Notre Dame, they were very excited to apply. Now that they are here, the students all hope to take their experiences at Notre Dame back to Ukraine.

“I hope to expand my knowledge of the law. When Ukraine rebuilds our country, I hope I can bring what I have learned at Notre Dame back to help improve our field of law in Ukraine,” said Mahas. “This experience is very valuable for Ukraine and for us.”

Humen, who is taking International and Comparative IP Law, is personally interested in information law. She said, “That field of law is very well developed here in the United States and I really want to gather as much knowledge as possible in order to successfully implement it in Ukraine later.”

Hrytsyna is interested in human rights law, and through her classes she is studying the Inter‑American Court of Human Rights for the first time. “I am familiar with the European Court of Human Rights,” said Hrytsyna. “I can now compare the two, how they rule, and how they make decisions.”

Located in the western city of Lviv, UCU is not close to actual areas of conflict in the war with Russia. However, the students said the war does affect them. When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the school was shut down for a few weeks. Students continued their studies online for the rest of the spring semester. In the fall, they were able to return to in-person classes, but the situation still did not feel safe. The students said during class they would often hear air raids, sirens, and bombs going off and often had to attend class in bomb shelters set up in the student union. Sometimes they were without electricity and attended class by candlelight.

“We want to be representatives of Ukraine, to share our culture and traditions, and tell about the war from our perspective,” said Humen.

The students say they have really enjoyed getting to know students from different countries through the ​​Law School’s LL.M. Program in International Human Rights Law, as well as through other exchange programs across campus.

“It has been nice to get to know students from a lot of other countries. In Ukraine we don’t have the opportunity to meet people from places such as Palestine and Iran, who also have wars going on in their countries,” said Hrytsyna. “They understand because we are in the same situation that they are. We have been able to make friends and connections for a lifetime.”

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The students sort and fold clothing at the Center for the Homeless in South Bend during the Law School’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on January 16.

Notre Dame has had a long history of friendship and collaboration with UCU, dating back to its founding in 2002 as the first Catholic university established on territory of the former Soviet Union.

Svitlana Khyliuk is the academic director of the bachelor's program at the UCU School of Law, which was established at UCU in 2014. She visited Notre Dame as a visiting scholar in the fall of 2021 through the Nanovic Institute for European Studies. Nanovic was the original institute that formed a partnership between Notre Dame and UCU. During her semester at Notre Dame, Khyliuk spent a significant amount of time at the Law School. She has been an enthusiastic supporter of the students and of the exchange program between UCU and Notre Dame.

“The collaboration between ND Law School and UCU Law School presents an opportunity to combine the expertise and experience of a leading institution, with the energy and aspiration of a start-up,” said Khyliuk.

All three students were enthusiastic about coming to Notre Dame.

“Notre Dame and UCU share similar values. This is a great place to gain skills, knowledge, and work with world-class professors and lawyers,” said Humen.

Mahas added, “As a Catholic university, Notre Dame’s values and philosophy are close to mine and the mission resonates in my heart.”

The students have become fully immersed into life at the Law School and at Notre Dame, living on campus at the Fischer Graduate Residences. While they find the academics and class sizes similar to UCU, they say student life and the campus environment are very different. UCU has no sports teams and far fewer social activities compared with Notre Dame.

Mahas commented with enthusiasm on the variety of activities the students have done. They have enjoyed attending many Notre Dame athletic events, including basketball, lacrosse, and hockey games. They have also been to the Bengal Bouts tournament, saw a Cabaret show, and played volleyball and badminton. They utilize the workout facilities, and enjoy attending the many lectures and speakers sponsored by Notre Dame.

“We are everywhere,” laughed Humen.

They even volunteered at the Law School’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service in January, only 24 hours after arriving in the United States.

“If we don’t have an activity to do during the day, we feel like something is wrong,” said Hrytsyna.

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The students speak with Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell in Art and Cultural Heritage Law.

The students have found everyone to be very friendly and the professors to be very supportive.

Mary Ellen O’Connell, the Robert and Marion Short Professor of Law and Research Professor of International Dispute Resolution, checked in on the Ukrainian students on the anniversary of the beginning of the war. They shared some emotional moments together. O’Connell teaches all three students Art and Cultural Heritage Law, and often speaks on the conflict in Ukraine.

“She has been very supportive of us and helped us integrate into the community here,” said Humen.

Hrytsyna added that Professor of Law and Global Affairs Diane Desierto, the faculty director for the LL.M. Program in International Human Rights Law, helped her choose a topic for her paper, and then invited her to present the topic in the Notre Dame Reparations Design and Compliance Lab, which Desierto co-leads.

The students all say how much they appreciate the unique and amazing opportunity they have to work with Notre Dame professors and be on campus for the semester.

“We are grateful we are here,” Humen said. “We hope that this will not only be a benefit for us, but that we are able to contribute to the Notre Dame community as well.”

Originally published by Denise Wager at on March 29, 2023.