Sophie Finn speaks to Ukrainian students studying at UCD about their experience of the war in Ukraine, and what can be done to offer support.
It has been over a month since Russia invaded Ukraine. Many Ukrainian students are studying in universities across Ireland and currently facing exams. These students have been profoundly affected by the war in Ukraine, concerned for their friends and family, and the devastation of their country. The University Observer spoke to Ukrainian students studying at UCD about their experience of the war, how it has affected them and what people in Ireland can do to help.
On March 3rd, Daniela Myers organised a protest in UCD against the war in Ukraine, which was attended by approximately 70 students. Myers spoke to the University Observer about her experience of the war. “I grew up in the United States, but my mom is Ukrainian and grew up in Simferopol, Crimea. She emigrated to the US when she was 20. I came to Ireland to study at UCD as an international student.” Discussing how the war has affected her, Myers said “It has been a devastating experience witnessing the war, not knowing at first if the family I have there would survive or not. But not just my family, seeing all Ukrainians suffer Putin’s imperialist military incursions has been heart-breaking.
“This war has definitely affected my ability to stay focused. It is constantly on my mind. Not many things can compare to the atrocities taking place in Ukraine. It takes up most of my brain capacity and it is very overwhelming.” However, Myers outlined that throughout the horrific experience UCD has supported her, “UCD has been very supportive. My pathway coordinator reached out to me and we had a meeting in which she showed me all the supports that UCD could provide for me. I felt very comforted and heard. I am very grateful for the support system UCD has in place.”
This war has definitely affected my ability to stay focused. It is constantly on my mind. Not many things can compare to the atrocities taking place in Ukraine. It takes up most of my brain capacity and it is very overwhelming
Myers outlined which way Irish people can most help the people of Ukraine. “I think the most influential ways for people of other countries to help is to continue donating money to reputable sources..., attend local protests, and most importantly, stay informed and educated on what is really happening. Nowadays the media can skew people to believe things that are not true, and especially with the dangers of state-sponsored Russian media, it is important that people of other countries keep up to date with Ukrainian news from reputable, independent news sources, documenting the truth about the war. Ukraine is suffering tremendously, but they will win. Slava Ukraine.”
Dariya Bazhenova is a final year Commerce International student from Ukraine, her father and brother are currently living in Lviv, Ukraine. Speaking about how the war has impacted her, Bazhenova said, “It hasn’t been an easy month, it’s now been more than a month sadly. It’s something that touches me because of my brother being there, and my dad being there.” Bazhenova’s brother was originally supposed to stay with his mother in Italy, however her father and dad are now unable to leave the country as they are both between 16-65 years old, and they must stay in the country in case of conscription to the army.
“You don’t understand war until it touches you. It’s not a great moment. I’m lucky to be away from it, but it’s a constant thought that chases you. I’ve never felt this way before, this is something that at least for the first month was very hard to live with. I’m not saying that now it’s better, people just get used to things, there have been wars that lasted decades. People get used to it, and it’s the worst thing that can happen. I don’t think it’s something we can get used to as Ukrainians but the way it is, it doesn’t seem to be ending soon.”
“In the beginning, it was very hard to continue with my life. I have priorities that were not priorities anymore, they became not as important as the war for me, you really understand what is important in life. Next year’s plans, college, applications, it all just became background. My biggest concern was my brother’s and my dad’s safety. Even though I’m lucky to be here away from the nightmare, I feel useless, there are so many ways to help, but at the end of the day you cannot help the real problem, it's frustrating and it’s not a feeling I would wish for anyone.”
It’s scary how your life can change literally in a day, you can just wake up and your life is completely changed, and your priorities are not your priority anymore you just want to survive and end this nightmare
Bazhenova outlined that in Lviv her brother and father generally hear one alarm per day and must run to the basement, however her brothers’ apartments basement is not safe as it is a ten-floor apartment building and is a new build, “they’re more like skyscrapers and they’re not as safe as the old ones”. Bazhenova explained that sometimes people do not like using buildings basements for fear of being stuck there if the building is destroyed. Bazhenova’s father has a leg injury, and his building has no lift, so he cannot make it down the five floors of his building quickly enough and instead stays in his apartment during alarms, “It is not safe at all… but it is what it is, he doesn’t get to the basement in time when he runs”.
Bazhenova noted Lviv is not the worst area affected by the war, her relatives in Eastern Ukraine experienced around three alarms each day and must run to the basement, her cousin in Kyiv lived in the metro for the first few days of the war due to the lack of basements or bunkers. “Your life is completely disrupted, the life you were living one day is completely changed, it doesn’t even deserve to be called life, it’s awful”.
As well as the devastation of the lives of those in Ukraine, Bazhenova talks about the stress and worry for those with relatives living there. “It’s something we cannot understand being here but it’s a constant worry. My mum [in Italy] has not watched a movie [or tv show] in forty days, all she watches is news, she gets back from work and will stick to the news for three or four hours and will have her telegram groups where she gets all the news live from Ukraine.”
Talking about her own experience of attempting to live with the war, Bazhenova said, “I still went to class. I would still try to focus, but sometimes I would sit in the lecture and watch the news live, I could see what was happening. Today we are kind of lucky to know what’s happening. People ask, ‘how are things?’ but everyone knows how things are. If you look at the news, you know if there’s a bombing or a strike. The answer to the question ‘how are you keeping?’ I’ve been honestly struggling to answer that question lately.”
Discussing how UCD has supported her, Bazhenova outlined, “UCD has supported students from day one, our student advisors have been in touch with us since day two of the war.” Bazhenova’s course is split between Business and French, she outlined that she received a personal email from a member of the French department which meant a lot to her. “I really appreciated it when a French faculty member emailed me on the first day [of the war]. In those two lines, I could feel that person empathised with me, on the day that it happened that support from that teacher really really meant a lot. I got other emails; they were all from the French faculty.
“I didn’t get a single email from a business staff member at all, I don’t know if they’re aware of any Ukrainian people being in the class or being registered for the course, at the same time I didn’t expect any individual support from professors, but it was just very pleasant to read a few emails that were just directed to me, and not an email sent out to everyone with a list of supports … I didn’t respond to that email because I knew it wasn’t addressed personally to me, it’s not just a critique it’s the way I am.” Bazhenova outlined she feels those struggling with the war would feel “alone” with the emails from UCD communicated to Ukrainian students as a group. “They’ll feel alone with that email whereas the email I got from the French faculty members I didn’t feel alone there”.
Bazhenova outlines she really appreciated the support from the French teacher, but UCD did also offer support it just was not as personal, “Overall UCD did a lot, and they’re still doing a lot.” Bazhenovaa also outlined that she appreciated the support from friends, “I was blessed at the beginning and still now with people reaching out and asking me how I was doing, and people supporting me in general and sending me a small message, it sounds very minimal and superficial, but it really meant a lot especially at the beginning when it all felt like a bad dream, but unfortunately, it wasn’t. I’m just blessed to be surrounded by people who support me and who know I have family in Ukraine.
People ask, ‘how are things?’ but everyone knows how things are. If you look at the news, you know if there’s a bombing or a strike. The answer to the question ‘how are you keeping?’ I’ve been honestly struggling to answer that question lately.
Discussing how people in other countries can help the people of Ukraine, Bazhenova said “There’s nothing that can be done to help to solve the problem, people have no power, hopefully, one day we will. People have been doing a lot, all the support on a humanitarian level has been extremely important, and it should continue, it’s the only thing that signals light at the end of the tunnel, even though the tunnel seems to be very long, it makes us feel like we are not alone. I’m blessed, and Ukraine is blessed to have the support. But at the same time, people are dying, for the last 38 days people have been living in basements, they haven’t seen the light. It’s scary how your life can change literally in a day, you can just wake up and your life is completely changed, and your priorities are not your priorities anymore you just want to survive and end this nightmare.”
Myers and Bazhenova’s account of their experience of the war indicates the level of stress and fear those from Ukraine, or with family and friends in Ukraine may be feeling. This type of fear is unimaginable to many of us, and these students are incredible to be able to continue and juggle their coursework, exams and other commitments. As Bazhenova pointed out, there is nothing we can do to stop the real issue – the war, however, there are things that can be done to support those living through the horrific experience, as well as those such as Bazhenova and Myers who are living in a different hell, chased by constant fear for their country, friends and family. Please find below a list of some of the things people can do to support Ukraine, it’s important to note best practices for donations and support continually changes and everyone should make an effort to stay up to date.
How you can help:
There is no single agency coordinating all support efforts, but there are many charities where you can donate food, money, and clothes. However, agencies in Ukraine are requesting donations, rather than goods, as they are sourced locally, and it can be difficult to get goods into the country. Examples of charities to donate to include: the Red Cross Ukraine Appeal; Polish Humanitarian Action; IOM; Together-Razem Centre; UNICEF; UNHCR; several Irish international charities are running an appeal for aid for Ukraine under the collective Irish Emergency Alliance.
To offer accommodation to Ukrainian refugees, visit the Irish Red Cross website and fill in details about your space or property on the Register of Pledges: https://registerofpledges.redcross.ie/#/
To offer skills and other forms of assistance to Ukrainian refugees, pledge your services on the Irish Red Cross Website: https://registerofpledges.redcross.ie/#/. You can also sign up to mentor a Ukrainian refugee to help them find employment: http://goingfar.co.
To take part in community sponsorship and welcome refugees visit The Open Community: https://theopencommunity.ie.
If you know somebody or are somebody with a business who can offer goods and services, a new website ‘pryvit’ has been set up by volunteers to help Ukrainian refugees: https://pryvit.ie.
Check-in on your Ukrainian friends and those with family and friends in Ukraine, keep informed about the war and show solidarity with the people of Ukraine.