‘I’m very worried’: London’s Ukrainian students on the crisis back home
International crisis is having personal consequences on some London students
Tensions in Ukraine have been taking over the news over the past month; the whole world watches as more than 100,000 Russian troops gathered near a border under threat since nearly a decade ago.
But behind the diplomatic stare-down of the Eastern and Western superpowers are the ordinary people living the consequence of their leaders’ words.
Being an international hub, London hosts many Ukrainian students pursuing their studies away from home. The London Tab spoke to some of them to see how the current situation impacts their lives.
‘Anxiety about the military presence of the Russian Federation in Ukraine’ has been constant
While the crisis looks like it only erupted recently, Ukrainian LSE student Uliana made sure to clarify that “the anxiety about the military presence of the Russian Federation in Ukraine hasn’t stopped since 2014.
“It was usual for the news anchor to begin with telling about the situation in Donbas, how many casualties the Ukrainian side sustained against the Russian militants, and what was going on there. However, over the years, people have learned to live with the fact that about 700 kilometres from Kyiv, there is a literal but not proclaimed war.
“With the new escalation, people were reminded of the severity of the threat,” she said.
Students abroad are experiencing a ‘buildup of worries and anxiety’ over crisis back home
Apart from one anonymised student who said their family members are actually “relaxed as there have been tensions for years,” the amount of time this crisis existed doesn’t lessen the current anxiety for most students we spoke to and their families.
Danylo from LSE told The London Tab: “It is difficult to explain to a foreigner the amount of stress that my fellow compatriots have to endure because of the current crisis.
“Students are expected to deal with their day-to-day duties such as assignments and job hunting as normal despite the buildup of worries and anxiety. There is a constant feeling that our families were left behind and have to prepare in case the full-scale invasion is launched against Ukraine,” he said.
Emma, a UCL Ukrainian student, echoed this, saying that her family members back home are “very worried about the current situation,” with some even “planning to leave the country for good.”
Having family members in distress affected her as well. “I’m very worried. I can’t work properly. I constantly check up on the news, which is mentally exhausting,” she said.
Ivan* is also worried about their family members back home, who are “scared but they don’t have options so they just live life as it is and hope for the best.
“I’m worried something happens to them and that my cousin will be forced to join the army.
“I’m thinking about it every day and try to keep as updated as possible with all the news (I read them in different languages to get an overall understanding). I stay connected to my family, but we don’t talk much about the current situation as we try to ‘avoid/ignore’ it,” they said.
Away, but staying ‘strong, firm and undaunted’
Even though it seems like they can’t do anything but worry while stranded in the UK, many Ukrainian students in London are doing a lot to support their community back home.
Uliana said: “Knowing that people my age are putting their lives on the front lines is simultaneously sad and inspiring. I will continue to contribute in my way, enlightening foreigners about the situation in Ukraine and supporting citizens and soldiers back at home.”
As the president, Danylo spoke on behalf of the LSE Ukrainian Society, saying that the community “does its best to raise the spirits of our members and to do our part in helping Ukraine.
“It is important to remain optimistic in the face of aggression and to do our part abroad, as any effort helps to strengthen the position of Ukraine in such difficult times.
“For instance, we raise awareness about the struggles that our country has to endure and organise academic events such as next week’s session with Ukrainian journalists focused on combating disinformation campaigns aimed at diminishing our cause of gaining international support.
“In such a difficult time students abroad come together and unite. Last week Ukrainian societies of various London universities gathered at the Embassy to express their solidarity as well as campaign for peace and territorial integrity of our home,” he said.
Ukraine’s Ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, appreciates their efforts.
He thinks it is “only natural” for every Ukrainian to worry about the current situation, but the anxiety “is especially acute for those of us who find themselves abroad and away from home and our loved ones.”
Speaking to The London Tab, he urged students to “keep in touch with [your family]. Discuss your worries with your friends. Never hesitate to contact the Embassy of Ukraine where you are always welcome. We applaud and thank those of you who have already visited to show solidarity.
“One proven method of dealing with anxiety is staying active. Keep telling British and other fellow students about Ukraine, its proud history and present. Only the truth can dispel Russia’s pervasive myths and lies. Ours is the just cause, so spread the word to those who are still unaware.”
He also wants to reassure the students that “Ukraine is not alone: look at all the support that is pouring in.
“Our foreign partners, such as the United Kingdom, are helping Ukraine build up its resilience. Massive diplomatic efforts and unprecedented military assistance combine with Ukraine’s own resolve and resources to make up for a strength to reckon with. This is not something the Kremlin hoped to encounter, and we trust this should keep the aggressor from putting its insane schemes into action.
“If we give in now, our enemy will make sure that anxiety becomes the way of life for Ukraine, Europe and the whole world for decades to come. If we remain united, persistent and resolute, then Russia will retreat, and our anxiety will soon be gone.
“Let us stay strong, firm and undaunted,” he said.
Non-Ukrainians should know that ‘a complete war in Ukraine, hence Europe, can impact them too’
The London Tab also asked the students if non-Ukrainians can do anything to help.
Ivan* was keen to point out that certain comments (regardless of intention) are not welcomed.
“I see how my foreign friends ask questions about the current situation. It’s nice that they at least know about it, but I do not like these stupid questions that I’ve been getting all the time such as ‘Ukraine is a part of Russia, right?’ or ‘Oh so you speak Russian because you’re from Ukraine?’…”
Because of this, they think the uni or SU should “host events for foreign students to show them that a complete war in Ukraine, hence Europe, can impact them too and to educate them on the current situation that’s been ongoing since 2014.”
In terms of academics, Emma said: “It would be very helpful if students like me could get deferrals for some assignments since the current situation really affects your mental health and you are not able to focus properly.
“Moreover, if some students have to travel to Ukraine (like I do) to see their loved ones they definitely need extra time for their work.”
‘I love my country, and I want it to thrive in peace’
After all, the crisis is happening in Ukraine, so The London Tab asked the students what the country means to them.
Emma said: “My motherland. My home. It’s a place where I feel calm and happy.” She was recently back in Ukraine during winter break but plans to go back again during the term to support her family.
Ivan* said: “It is my home, where my family has been living for over 100 years and I always love coming back.
“Although I’ve lived for over 10 years abroad and am eligible for a EU pass, I keep my Ukrainian [passport] because I want to stay as connected as possible to the country. After I finish my studies I want to go back to Ukraine,” they said.
And there also is one oddly practical UCL student who described Ukraine as “its own individual country that shares a similar culture to Russia and other post-soviet states due to the USSR.”
But regardless, it seems like most students we spoke to would agree with Uliana when she said:
“I love my country, and I want it to thrive in peace.”
*name changed to preserve anonymity