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“I carried stones and gasoline to demonstrators”: Impact speaks to Ukrainian students at UoN

Being a Ukrainian student during the last month or so has not been an easy task. Since November 2013, conflict in the country moved quickly from peaceful protests to bloody unrest. The president has been expelled and more than 100 people have been killed during confrontations between protesters and the police.

Impact spoke to three Ukrainian students at UoN about what it has been like to see their home in turmoil.

A FEW METRES FROM THE SHOOTING

Mikhailo, 25, studies a PhD in Finances and Risk. On February 18, in the streets of Kiev, he says he wished he was studying something more productive: “I am just an intellectual” he says. “Maybe sometime, once the system has been relaunched and rebuilt, I could participate”.

However, his lack of military experience didn’t stop him. As early as January 20th he was helping transport protesters from the suburbs with his father.

“I helped to carry stones and gasoline, amongst other supplies, to the demonstrators in Independence Square”

During those days, a repressive police force provoked riots; soon people were throwing stones and Molotov cocktails in the capital. The number of casualties began to increase, and then when the conflict seemed on the point of de-escalation, everything exploded.

Four days before President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted from office, punishment by the police increased. Mikhailo had decided to stay in Kiev in order the protesters.

“Our hopes were concentrated on one objective – to kick the gangs out of Ukraine, it was my destiny to go out and help these people”

He says: “I helped to carry stones and gasoline, amongst other supplies, to the demonstrators in Independence Square”. Not more than 100 meters from where Mikhailo was trying to help, people were being killed by sniper bullets.

However, the Ukrainians achieved their objective. “Our hopes were concentrated on one objective – to kick the gangs out of Ukraine, it was my destiny to go out and help these people”, Mikhailo tells Impact.

Now, he mostly fears for his family as he explains: “We haven’t felt calm since November”. There’s a general sense of insecurity and uncertainty about what will happen next in light of the annexation of the Crimea by Russia.

MY FATHER, A POLICEMAN, TRAPPED IN HIS BUILDING FOR A WEEK

Alona, an undergraduate student of Veterinary Science, kept up-to-date with the deteriorating situation through watching TV and reading newspapers. Her parents and friends, who live in Kiev, experienced the chaos first hand.

“During the crisis, he couldn’t physically leave his job – at the Ministry of Police– because his building had been occupied by demonstrators, and he had to stay there for a week”

“To see this happening to my city, with people and bombs around, people getting shot randomly, was really scary”, says Alona. These worries were only heightened by the fact that her father is a Ukrainian policeman.

“The thing is that police had to protect the government. One day during the crisis, he couldn’t physically leave his job –the Ministry of Police– because his building had been occupied by demonstrators, and he had to stay there for a week”.

“I’m now paying far more for my course than I was supposed to be paying before the crisis happened”

Alona’s family has also been affected by the weakening of the currency, which occurred during the months of the crisis. “I’m now paying far more for my course than I was supposed to be paying before the crisis happened”, she estimates.

Before the conflict, it was around 13 hryvnia (Ukrainian currency) to one pound sterling. It’s now approximately 18 to one pound, principally due to poor management of the economy by the Ukrainian Government since 2010.

Now, Alona plans to pay her course fees advance in case she finds herself in a situation where the Ukrainian currency just keeps depreciating.

UoN International Office said: “Students who find themselves affected by a sudden, short-term change in circumstances which has affected their ability to financially support themselves can apply to the University Crisis Fund for support.  Enquiries from International and EU students should be directed to the International Office , upon which advice will be given on a case by case basis“.

“WE ARE TRAUMATISED AND EXHAUSTED”

“The situation is very stressful”, says Liana, 20, who studies Russian. A resident of the UK since she was a child, she has been observing the events in Kiev in last months.

“If people don’t speak up, we will still be living in a country which is very corrupt – with people illegally emigrating to help their families, with low wages and very expensive prices”

The Ukrainian community in Manchester, to which her mother belongs, was “traumatized and exhausted” watching their people involved in such a dramatic situation. “We’ve been praying for them”, she says.

Even Ivano-Frankivsk, a western Ukrainian city where she was born, was affected by the political crisis. Her family and friends were not able to sleep, let alone go to college and study.

“Everyone was freaking out”, she says. A friend of hers in Ukraine who lived next to presidential building in Kiev was unable to leave her home for three weeks because of the security measures.

“Even though we are not living there it still hurts. It is my own country. I would definitely have gone to help if I could”

Liana understands the anger that Ukrainian citizens are feeling. “If people don’t speak up, we will still be living in a country which is very corrupt – with people illegally emigrating to help their families, with low wages and very expensive prices”, she claims.

Liana told Impact that she was upset that she couldn’t help as much as she wanted, but she couldn’t leave her job. “Even though we are not living there it still hurts. It is my own country. I would definitely have gone to help if I could”.

The International Office added: “If any Ukrainian students have any concerns and would like to talk to a member of the support team please do not hesitate to contact us”.

Daniel Meza Mosqueira

Image: Oxlaey.com via Flickr

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