War-torn love: Ukrainian student copes with loss while overseas


Collegian | Lucy Morantz

Ukrainian Colorado State University student Lucie Michelizzi shows the tattoo she got in honor of her partner, who died fighting in the Russia-Ukraine War this past summer, March 8. Copied from a letter her partner, Artem Le, wrote for her, the tattooed phrase loosely translates to “You will get through this,” or “Brighter days ahead.”

Ivy Secrest, Life and Culture Director

Connections to culture, love and family are staples of life. For Colorado State University student Lucie Michelizzi, these connections were forever changed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Born in what is now Dnipro formerly Dnipropetrovsk Ukraine, Michelizzi grew up going between Seattle with her mother and stepfather and Ukraine with her extended family. But when the war began, many of her relationships changed forever.


Sitting in her Fort Collins home, Ukrainian Colorado State University student Lucie Michelizzi reads a letter from her partner, who died fighting for the protection of his home due to the impacts of war this past summer, March 8. (Collegian | Lucy Morantz)

Michelizzi lost her partner, Artem (Артём) Le, to the conflict Aug. 7, 2022. Now she is sponsoring a GoFundMe to help treat her grandmother’s cancer all while being overseas from her family, including her parents, who moved back during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Le grew up in Donetsk, Ukraine, and he fought in the war in Ukraine in 2014 and was shot. Though he wanted an education, Le didn’t have a passport and couldn’t go to school or leave the country. When Russia invaded Feb. 24, 2022, Le wanted to fight again.

“I basically pleaded with him not to go,” Michelizzi said. “(It was) very dangerous. It’s just a bloodbath, especially on the borders, especially in the front lines. Everyone’s getting killed, so I was really scared.”

Before Le’s death, Michelizzi left Ukraine. After being briefly stuck in Moscow with her aunt, she was able to return to CSU.

“It was hard to do long distance, and we were like, ‘OK, why don’t you do your thing, and I’ll do my thing. We just need some time,’” Michelizzi said. “During that time that we kind of took a break. He ended up going to fight in the war. He reached out to me sometimes, but it’s hard to get connection there.”

Ukrainian Colorado State University student Lucie Michelizzi with her former partner, Artem Le. (Photo courtesy of Lucie Michelizzi)

Le chose to fight, but all men ages 18-60 in Ukraine cannot leave the country and are eligible for military service at this time. For their loved ones who cannot always contact them, this is a terrifying reality. Many people have family on both sides of the war.

“Every Ukrainian has Russian family,” Michelizzi said. “Nobody thought that it was going to come to that point, and it did. It shocked everybody.”

Being overseas, Michelizzi can only do so much to support her family. Though she’s received a great deal of support from friends and professors, it can be difficult sometimes to deal with some of her misinformed peers.

“There’s a lot of misinformation being spread,” Michelizzi said. “I just always encourage people to think critically about the mass media that they’re receiving.”


As the president of Russian Club, Michelizzi has been approached by students wondering whether the club should exist considering the conflict, saying that it feels “messed up” to be speaking Russian.

“I don’t think that it’s right to demonize an entire culture, an entire people, and get rid of the club,” Michelizzi said.

This kind of misunderstanding around Russian culture versus the actions of its government is not uncommon, even on campus.

“Many students have been concerned about the need to distinguish between the actions of the Russian government and ordinary Russians, many of whom are themselves victims of Putin’s repression and campaign of disinformation,” wrote Deborah Yalen, an assistant professor of history at CSU, in email correspondence. 

Ukrainian Colorado State University student Lucie Michelizzi with her grandmother. (Photo courtesy of Lucie Michelizzi)

Misunderstanding around the cultural and ethnic diversity of the ex-Soviet immigrant community in the United States is also not uncommon, Yalen said.

“In the weeks following the invasion, there were reports of anti-Russian incidents in both the U.S. and Europe, and this hostility was also being directed at people wrongly perceived to be Russian,” Yalen wrote in email correspondence. “In one recent incident, an ethnic Armenian living in San Diego was threatened for having a traditional Russian dish on the menu at his restaurant.”

For students, Russian Club is a safe place for students to speak the language and participate in their culture with food and understanding company.

“It’s kind of like a diaspora to experience your homeland without being there,” Michelizzi said.

There aren’t many Ukrainian or Russian students on campus, so finding students that Michelizzi can celebrate her culture with is incredibly important to her. Shared culture is part of what made her connection with Le so strong.

Before the war, Michelizzi was staying with her family in Ukraine, taking classes online and spending her days with Le.

“I had the perfect summer,” Michelizzi said. “For the first time, I was in a relationship with somebody who spoke my language (and) understood my culture.”

Michelizzi was informed of Le’s death via a text from someone that knew him.

“He texted me a couple of days before he was killed,” Michelizzi said. “He said, ‘I love you. … Things are tough here. … It’s scary. And I’ll always love you, you’ll always be in my heart.’” 

She didn’t see the message until after his death. Because they were on a break and she couldn’t have been there to stop him, Michelizzi said she had intense guilt around Le’s death.

“I would give up my life if I could just go back in time and stay or convince him not to go or convince my family to move somewhere else,” Michelizzi said.

She strives to help her family through the GoFundMe for her grandmother and to keep Le’s memory alive while continuing her studies at CSU.

“He was extremely poor, and he died extremely young,” Michelizzi said. “I’m really worried that he’s just another body that was killed. … He’s just disposable, just an object of war. He’s a human being, and I want his story to be known. I want him to live on forever in some way.”

A week after Le’s passing, Michelizzi got a tattoo from a letter he wrote to her. It reads, “Тебе станет легче,” which loosely translates to “You will get through this,” or “Brighter days ahead.”

Reach Ivy Secrest at life@collegian.com or on Twitter @IvySecrest.