When college classes start in the wee morning hours

by Len Lear
Posted 2/1/24

Who takes college classes in the middle of the night? The answer: Maksym Burych, forced to flee Ukraine.

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When college classes start in the wee morning hours


Maksym “Max” Burych, a college student who lives on Ardleigh Street in Chestnut Hill and has a full-time job as a server for Chestnut Grill, obviously has a very full agenda to keep up with. But Max may just be the only college student in the Philadelphia area with an additional burden – impossible for all but the most sleep-deprived night owl.

After a full day's work that begins at 3:45 p.m. most weekdays and goes from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends, Max begins taking his college courses on Zoom at 1 a.m., ending them at either 5:30 or 7 a.m. Then he goes to sleep. 

The obvious question: Who takes college classes in the middle of the night? 

The answer: Maksym Burych.

The reason is the seven-hour difference between Philadelphia and Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine that has been under almost constant bombardment by the Russian military since Vladimir Putin and his generals invaded that country two years ago.

On Feb. 12, 2022, Max and his family – twin brother Zahkar, mom Liudmyla and dad Ivan, who had his own business in Ukraine selling agricultural products – were on vacation in Poland to celebrate Max's upcoming 18th birthday on Feb. 19. They had planned to return to their home in Ukraine on Feb. 26. However, the Russians began their unprovoked, murderous assault on Feb. 24, 2022, the largest attack against a European country since World War II.

So rather than return home as planned, Max and his family came to the U.S. They selected Philadelphia as their destination because Max's mother, who was a stay-at-home mom in Ukraine, had a best friend who had come to Wyndmoor from Ukraine in 1996. 

The Burych family stayed with her for a half year. They could not rent an apartment of their own until they were given the proper papers, which took nine months to obtain. 

Max's dad now is doing construction work in Norristown. He works 65 to 70 hours a week installing windows and bathrooms. Before working at Chestnut Grill, Max worked 55-60 hours a week in a pizza shop in Germantown and three months of construction work, sanding floors, painting and doing minor electrical jobs.

“People in Eastern Europe tend to be very handy, even me,” said Max. “You have to be. We can't keep buying new stuff. We can't afford to, so we have to learn to fix things up.” 

Suzi Simon, general manager of Chestnut Grill who has been with the restaurant since it opened in the Chestnut Hill Hotel 27 years ago, said about Max, “He is a really good kid and a great worker. He is good with customers and knows how to do his job. When I ask him to do something, he does it. Not everyone does.” 

In Ukraine, high school students graduate after 11th grade. There is no 12th grade. When the war started, Max was in his first year of college, majoring in international relations. He is now in his third year. 

“Many customers in the restaurant say that previous family members came here from Ukraine,” said Max. “Many came after World War II.”

Max's family had a good life in Ukraine, and they traveled extensively. “We visited 42 countries,” he said. “We went to Dubai every year for 12 years. I've been to Finland four times, where I love skiing, and to Poland about 30 times in my life. It's like a trip to New York would be for you.” 

Poland, he said, was a great place to buy “quality products.” As for Dubai, he said, they went for the weather. 

“My parents love hot weather, so they liked Dubai, where it is usually over 100 degrees,” he said. 

When asked about financial comparisons, Max pointed out that salaries in his home country are much lower than they are here. But so are the prices. 

“Everything is way cheaper there. Rent for a two-bedroom apartment is about $250 to $300. I pay $1,300 for a year of college, and it is one of the best schools. I could have gone to others for free,” he said. “In a restaurant, Caesar salad is $1.50, and a full dinner is $7 or $8. I stopped smoking cigarettes because they are so expensive here. It makes no sense to buy them.”

Meanwhile, the average salary in Kyiv is $800 to $1,000 a month, and entry-level jobs pay about $300 a month. 

“Remember that we are a very young country and just got our independence from the Soviet Union in 1991,” he explained. “Ukraine was really progressing until 2014 when Russia invaded Crimea. Life was getting better for most people. If the war hadn't started, I would have never left.”

And while life here is working out, he said, he really wants to go home. 

“My Ukrainian dream is just to go back home and have a peaceful life,” he said. “I miss parties with friends, the kind of life kids are supposed to have in a university. I really liked the view from our 23rd-floor apartment window.”

Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com