Pepperdine professor teaches Ukrainian students about conflict resolution amid war

In a bomb shelter under Kyiv, the class learned the art of peace.

Amy Powell Image
Monday, February 26, 2024
Pepperdine professor teaches Ukrainian students amid war
"Five minutes into class, the air-raid sirens started," he recalled. "For the first time in my teaching career, and possibly not the last, I taught my class in a bomb shelter."

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A professor at Pepperdine University who spent time in Ukraine teaching a group of students about conflict and dispute resolution is sharing how his experience changed his life as the country marks the two-year anniversary since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion.

David Dowling, an adjunct professor with the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine's Caruso School of Law, traveled to the war-torn country last fall to teach the course.

He said he will never forget his first day.

"Our very first day, I walked into class and the students all came in and put their bags down, and then they started picking up their bags and walking out because the air-raid sirens started going off," he recalled.

For the students, this was the first time they had been back in a classroom together since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak and the Russian invasion of their country.

Dowling recalls his students calmly leading him to a bomb shelter.

"The ceilings were low, and there were two little benches, and some of them were huddled up in the corners, and I thought, 'Let's teach!' That's what I'm here to do, and it was going to keep me calm."

Several students spoke with ABC News and shared emotional stories about their school-life balance in the war-torn country. Many of the memories are engraved in their mind.

"I remember like a terrible night, we had a large drone attack in Kyiv, and it lasted from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m.," said Aurika Solomakha. "You are forced to combine like a normal life, your studies, with such horrible things."

"It's our reality, even when we have maybe the happiest moments of our lives, but actually, we should not forget, even for a tiny moment," said Mariia Nazarenko.

Dowling left Kyiv at 6:28 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. At 8 a.m. that same morning, the city was bombed. Still, he hopes to return soon and continue where he left off. He said he was doing something so small, but it felt meaningful in a landscape like that of Ukraine.

Most students said it's a depressing or aggressive time "because people wonder, 'When will this end?'"

But this class gave both Dowling and the students a sense of purpose.

"They welcomed me with such love and enthusiasm from start to finish," he said.

ABC's Camilla Alcini contributed to this report.