Neel Mandavilli (left) and Andriy Shymonyak (right) stand by a makeshift memorial at N.C. State.
RALEIGH, N.C. -
Despite political and military tensions, two political science students from North Carolina State University left for Ukraine this week to document and get a first-hand look at what is happening there.
"Life goes on, even when there's a revolution happening," junior Neel Mandavilli told WNCN's Eileen Park before he and Andriy Shymonyak left for the crisis-torn country.
Ukraine's revolution is exactly what inspired Shymonyak and Mandavilli to leave their comfortable lives in Raleigh for 10 days in hopes of capturing with their cameras the stories behind the political tensions.
They flew out of RDU on Wednesday.
"Being there, seeing that, seeing the people that still resides, people still in the tents," Shymonyak said of their trip.
At first Shymonyak was reluctant to go to Ukraine, but he decided it was too important not to. While there, he and Mandavilli plan to meet with protesters involved in the deadly clashes.
"I don't consider myself that brave," Shymonyak said. "Perhaps if I was going to Crimea I'd be more inclined to consider that label, but even then I don't think I would apply it to myself."
Crimea has become the flashpoint in the battle for Ukraine, where three months of protests sparked by President Victor Yanukovych's decision to ditch a significant treaty with the 28-nation European Union after strong pressure from Russia led to his downfall.
A majority of people in Crimea identify with Russia, and Moscow's Black Sea Fleet is based in Sevastopol, as is Ukraine's.
The regional parliament in Crimea has set a March 16 referendum on leaving Ukraine to join Russia, and senior lawmakers in Moscow said they would support the move, ignoring sanctions threats and warnings from President Barack Obama that the vote would violate international law.
While the U.S. and the EU urged Russia to engage in dialogue with new Ukrainian authorities, the Kremlin has refused to do so, denouncing the change of power in Ukraine as an "unconstitutional coup."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow sees no sense in talking with Ukraine's new authorities because, in his view, they kowtow to radical nationalists.
At a news conference in Kiev, Ukraine's new foreign minister, Andrii Deshchytsi, spoke hopefully about creation of a contact group made up of foreign ministers of various countries to mediate the crisis. Forming the group was an idea discussed during meetings between Ukraine's prime minister and European Union leaders in Brussels on Thursday.
Deshchytsi said that he learned from mediators that Russia hasn't "categorically' refused the idea of permitting a contact group to help broker an end to the dispute.
Shymonyak and Mandavilli were able to fund much of their trip through the website Rally.org.