Meet the Cambridge student who’s gone to Ukraine to help in the conflict

Nikolai Nizalov – an undergrad at St. Catharine’s College – returned to Ukraine during Lent term

Nikolai Nizalov is a Biological Natural Sciences student at St. Catharine’s College currently providing humanitarian assistance in Ukraine.

The first-year student left Cambridge partway through Lent term in response to the Russian invasion. Although not currently a Ukrainian citizen, he grew up in Ukraine and has family and friends living there.

Nikolai has now trained to be a combat medic for a small volunteer unit. Nikolai currently has a fundraiser running for equipment with the aim of using drones to assist in humanitarian efforts like supplying medication and blood transfusions to areas that are difficult to access due to fighting and airstrikes. He has previously helped run several supply runs, getting items like tourniquets into Ukraine from the UK.

Nikolai was awake all night on the 24th of February, watching the invasion unfold in the early hours of the morning. Recalling the experience he said “it’s really hard to convey the exact feelings I was experiencing… I kept thinking it wouldn’t get worse and then it did.”

In the weeks leading up to the invasion, as Russia continued to strengthen its military presence along the Ukrainian border, Nikolai had already decided he wanted to go to Ukraine – “if something did happen I wanted to be there.” However, he was still in Cambridge when the invasion began and described everything as feeling “really hazy and surreal… I was so sleep deprived it didn’t really sink in until I woke up the next day.”

Nikolai has been using his Instagram (@nikolai_nizalov) as a method of fundraising, accepting donations through his PayPal and posting breakdowns of where the donations are going.

When asked about how is coping personally with the conflict, he said “I just don’t have time to worry… when this is over I’ll probably have to think through a lot of stuff but at the moment you’ve just got to keep going.”

“I’ve stopped reading the news except for maybe like once a day because it doesn’t change practically what I have to do and it lets you think more clearly. Before that I was literally checking my phone every 30 seconds – my screen time was insane.”

Nikolai left Cambridge shortly after playing Oxford in the Varsity Men’s Water Polo match. On the 14th of March, the University Waterpolo and Swimming teams took part in a 24-hour Swimathon to raise money for Ukraine and show their support for teammates affected by the conflict.

The reaction from his college has been supportive. After they were informed of his decision Nikolai was in contact with several staff members including Professor Mark Welland, the Master of St. Catharine’s and former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government Ministry of Defence.

When I asked Nikolai whether he thinks he will be returning to Cambridge for Easter term, he replied that “ideally the war ends now and then I’d be able to come back and have enough time to revise for exams”. Otherwise, he plans to sit his exams remotely and move to a safer location such as Poland for their duration.

Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope sent an email earlier this week to all students and staff detailing further support for Ukrainian students and academics, including a Ukrainian Academic Support Scheme to take in academics from Ukrainian Universities and making more resources available to students displaced as a result of the conflict.

Featured image credits: Nikolai Nizalov