Maryna Mullerman, a first-year veterinary medicine student, holds a duckling while visiting her grandparents in the countryside outside of Kharkiv, Ukraine, in August 2021.

Ukrainian veterinary student looks homeward

Until Feb. 24, the future seemed bright for Maryna Mullerman, a first-year veterinary student who spoke only basic English when she left Ukraine on her own at age 15 to pursue her education in the U.S.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of her home country has made it difficult for her to think about the future. “It’s hard to focus on school while my friends and family are in Ukraine, fearing for their lives,” Mullerman says. Her mother and sister are now in the U.S., and her grandparents fled their home in Kharkiv for the Netherlands.

Maryna Mullerman, a first-year veterinary medicine student, and her boyfriend, Vlad Pinkhasov, make friends with a calf in the countryside outside of Kharkiv, Ukraine, in August 2021.

She is unsure whether her apartment in Kharkiv is still intact. “I’m afraid to see a photo of my street,” she says. “The city is being bombed day and night. I do not know if I will ever be able to see my home again.”

Mullerman says Cornell has always been her dream school. Growing up in Ukraine, she spent many summers on her grandparents’ farm outside Kharkiv, where she enjoyed fishing, catching insects and observing wildlife. She knew she wanted to be veterinarian by the time she was 8 years old.

When she arrived in the U.S. in 2013, Mullerman enrolled in English as a second language classes and was able to transition into regular high school English classes within a year.

“It was hard, really hard,” Mullerman says, about living without her parents in a country where she didn’t speak the language. “My circumstances forced me to grow up really fast. I learned how to cook for myself, how to use a laundromat, how to keep a budget, how to call Social Security, how to apply for health insurance, and how to do taxes.”

Meant to be

Mullerman says that focusing on her goal – to attend college and then veterinary school – helped her stay motivated. She borrowed an SAT study guide from the public library near her home in Brooklyn and studied on her own. Mullerman was admitted to Stony Brook University, where she majored in biology, graduating in 2019.

Near the end of her undergraduate career, Mullerman attended an information session hosted by the College of Veterinary Medicine. “While listening to faculty and students from the school, I was overwhelmed with their passion and love for what they do,” she says. She was impressed by the college’s commitment to ensure access to veterinary services to underserved communities around the globe. She applied and was offered admission to CVM, along with a generous scholarship.

Though she is just beginning her veterinary studies, Mullerman says that, so far, Cornell is everything she hoped for. She is exploring diverse career paths within the veterinary profession, from One Health to international veterinary work and academia. “The faculty are not only exceptional in what they teach, but they’re also incredibly supportive and willing to help students find their passion,” Mullerman says.

Mullerman currently works as a student assistant at the Cornell Companion Animal Hospital, working side by side with practicing veterinarians to treat animal patients. She also works as a student milker in the Cornell Teaching Dairy Barn, where she is gaining dairy health and management experience. This summer, she will work as a teaching assistant in the CVM summer college, a program designed to introduce high school students to the field of veterinary medicine. She is also honing her Spanish language skills in preparation for future work in Spanish-speaking communities.

Maryna Mullerman attends Ukraine’s Euro Cup quarter final game in Rome in July 2021.

Looking to home

Mullerman last visited her friends and family in Ukraine in summer 2021, accompanied by her boyfriend, Vlad Pinkhasov, whose family emigrated from Moscow to New York City. Mullerman introduced Pinkhasov to her family and showed him her home. “He absolutely loved Ukraine,” she says.

Mullerman is grateful to the Cornell community for its support during this difficult time. “Everyone has reached out to me – my amazing classmates, other students, staff, faculty and the dean.”

She hopes the war in Ukraine will end quickly and that she will be able to return home in the summer. “I want to help rebuild my city that has been destroyed,” she says. She urges those who can do so to support the organizations delivering humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine.

This article is adapted from the original and is written by Linda Copman, a writer for Alumni Affairs and Development.