Posted January 31, 2024

Temple professor and students featured in documentary about forcibly displaced Ukrainians

The premiere of Beyond the Statistics, a film amplifying the voices of forcibly displaced people from Ukraine, takes place at the Science Education and Research Center at Temple University on Feb. 7.  

Image of filming Stacey Harpster, a Temple professor for a documentary.
Photography By: 
Courtesy of Stacey Harpster
Film producer Fernando Ramirez says Beyond the Statistics focuses on the courage, resiliency and determination of the forcibly displaced Ukrainian people who arrived in Philadelphia. Filming of the documentary was shot at sites on Temple University’s Main Campus.

In February 2022, Yana Kozyrkova and her son, David, had less than 24 hours to pack their belongings in one suitcase and flee their home in Mariupol, Ukraine. Russia started dropping bombs in their neighborhoods, and tanks were coming. Her daughter Yulia was in Kyiv, and Yana had to leave her husband behind because men are required to stay in the country to support the armed conflict.  

Running for their lives, Kozyrkova and her son drove for 32 hours to evacuate from Mariupol, and ultimately arrive in Poland, where they would then safely relocate to Philadelphia. Beyond the Statistics, a documentary by Bridges 2030, provides an intimate window into the personal stories of forcibly displaced people from Ukraine due to the ongoing war that started when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.  

Hosted by the Office of Global Engagement, the film’s premiere will be held at the Science Education and Research Center at Temple University’s Main Campus, on Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 3:30 p.m.  

The documentary, by executive producer Fernando Ramirez in collaboration with Be the Good Media, was shot in Philadelphia on Temple’s Main Campus; the Ukrainian Educational and Cultural Center in Jenkintown; and Polish cities of Warsaw, Lublin and Przemysl.  

“Our film is a call to action to understand the facts of the crisis beyond the statistics you hear on social media or a two-minute snippet on the news,” Ramirez said. “It amplifies the voices of Ukraine to educate our next generation of changemakers to the global challenges that refugees, immigrants and migrants face, including learning a new language, finding a place to live and receiving the necessary education. 

“You will hear from the Ukrainian families that we’ve been supporting and get a real story that will be emotional and painful to hear, but remaining silent is not an option,” he added. “It will allow people to think about how they can help.”  

The film’s producer explained that Temple’s contributions to support Ukrainian families have been incredibly valuable, which are featured in this documentary. He met Stacey Harpster, KLN ’99, FOX ’01, an assistant professor of instruction at the Klein College of Media and Communication, by chance at a Ukrainian church in Northern Liberties in 2022.  

Harpster was sitting inside the church with Ukrainian families, hearing stories about how their homes were destroyed because of the war.  

“I was moved when I heard the harrowing story of two women who walked 450 miles from Kyiv, Ukraine, to Warsaw, Poland, sleeping inside of a McDonald’s on their journey and ultimately arriving in my Philadelphia neighborhood. I had to meet them and welcome them to our city,” she said. 

She connected Ramirez with Diamond Edge Communications (DEC), Temple’s student-run advertising agency, who redesigned the Bridges 2030’s website and expanded the film’s messaging and social media presence and campaigns.  

“Part of my mission as a Temple professor is to expose my students to opportunities to use their advertising skills and talents to promote good in the world,” said Harpster, the DEC faculty director. 

Yulia Bihun is a Ukrainian mother who relocated to Philadelphia during the Russian invasion and shared her story with the Diamond Edge Communications team, Temple’s student-run advertising agency. She returned to Ukraine to keep her family together. (Photo courtesy of Stacey Harpster)  

Harpster is also featured in the film for doing significant work in the Northern Liberties neighborhood with the help of neighbors, local businesses and Bridges 2030, providing Ukrainian families with dentist appointments; job placement assistance; school selection; and securing daycare, summer camp, furniture, clothing, financial donations and more. Last year, she and Temple students collaborated with Bridges 2030 and Temple’s Office of Global Engagement to do a Christmas drive, donating 160 pounds of gloves, socks and toys for children in an orphanage in Ukraine.  

“Shooting this documentary helped humanize the stories of Ukrainians who have been forcibly displaced from their homes and highlights the efforts of people who have helped along the way,” she said. “So, I am hoping the film inspires others to take action in helping displaced communities.”  

Maya Sarver, KLN ’23, a Temple student interviewed in the film, was on the DEC team at Temple who assisted in growing the Bridges 2030’s social media presence on Instagram and LinkedIn by helping craft the film’s message with the Gen Z audience. Her efforts helped Ramirez get connected with other nonprofits and large businesses that provided donations for Ukrainian families. 

“I think our generation can be more creative in the ways we bring awareness to a humanitarian crisis by using social media and advertising to provide resources and donations to those in need,” she said.  

She got involved in the film’s mission after taking Harpster’s advertising course, Diamond Edge Communications. Sarver became the art director for Bridges 2030, creating the designs for much of their content.

She reported her work as a life-changing experience prompted by hearing stories from Yana, the Ukrainian mother who shared her journey to Philadelphia with the Temple students taking the DEC class. Sarver learned that Ukrainian families had no power due to the Russian airstrikes that targeted power plants in Ukraine. 

“Hearing the stories from Yana about her fight for survival, from their homes being without power in the cold winter and how she had to leave her husband behind changed my life,” said Sarver. “Despite being geographically far, I wanted to help.”  

She explained Bridges 2030 ended up donating a generator to a community center in Ukraine. 

“For Fernando, I know cultivating compassion is a big theme in this film,” she added. “I see a bright future where my generation is even more compassionate, willing to sit down, listen and take action.”  

“At the end of the day, it’s for all of us, our democracy and freedom,” added Ramirez.  

The film’s executive producer Fernando Ramirez will be in attendance for a panel discussion and Q&A session at the Science Education and Research Center on Temple’s Main Campus on Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 3:30 p.m. RSVP for the event