These Russian students at UCL started a charity to support Ukrainians
For Peace We Stand Together wants to show that many Russians ‘don’t support what’s happening’
There’re lots of ways to support Ukrainians badly affected by the war with Russia, with many student-led opportunities in London.
But given the nature of the war, a unique initiative is a charity called For Peace We Stand Together, which is started by a team of Russian students at UCL and is expanding across the country. They’re donating money earned from selling tote bags and other merchandise designed with anti-war symbols to humanitarian aid initiatives for Ukraine.
The London Tab sat down with them to understand more about the organisation and the thoughts of Russian students stuck in an international dilemma.
‘I think it all started with this idea and this need to do something to make a difference’
For Peace We Stand Together started with the need to “make a difference” as many of the co-founders have personal connections to those caught in this conflict.
One of them said to The London Tab: “My best friend’s Ukrainian, and I have relatives in Ukraine who have now fled to Germany. So it was something happening in our real lives. Something not something far away, but something real.”
Their idea to sell merchandise with peace symbols and typography started as one of them, a first year biological sciences student at UCL, has experience in sewing and designing clothes and they thought “it’d be pretty easy” to donate their earnings to humanitarian operations in Ukraine.
‘There are a lot of complications for Russian people to speak up’
One of the central aims of For Peace We Stand Together is to provide a way for Russians to help since the students thought “there are a lot of complications for Russian people to speak up.”
These include laws by the Russian government banning direct donations to the Ukrainian military and giving a maximum of 15 years in prison to anyone calling the war what it is – “a war.”
A co-founder of the charity said: “For a lot of people who are trying to do their part, you know, it’s very dangerous.
“Like, yes, we’re here in England, far away from the situation, but many of us have families back in Russia.”
Another second-year Economics student at UCL also mentioned how their family back in Russia have been opposed to them doing “all this activism” when their business, which the student gets their funding from, is “no longer running” due to the war.
But on the same note, the students also think Russians abroad should use this distance from the government’s grasp to their advantage.
“People like us who are abroad have that advantage of safety because we’re away from the Russian police and secret services. Especially if we’re staying anonymous. So those like us those here should actually use what they have to the most to help those who are out there in Russia and Ukraine.
“Because it’s a lot safer, those who are here should not be as afraid,” they said.
‘It was also a bit of a tough step to call ourselves Russians’
But there’s also another major issue they’ve faced due to their nationality while establishing For Peace We Stand Together.
One of the students, a second-year Management Science student, mentioned an incident they’ve experienced: “I was walking the street talking to a Jewish friend in Russian, and a couple of British people just turned to us and said, ‘That sounds Russian to me.’
“‘Oh, yeah, they’re Russians.’
“And they started screaming, ‘Fuck you Russian shits. Go fuck yourself, kill yourself.’ We were just speaking Russian,” they said.
Fear towards incidents like these is also why the students wanted to remain anonymous while speaking to us.
But they thinks these anti-Russian sentiments do not account for ordinary Russians who do not support the war but has no say in the actions of the Kremlin. It also fails to consider the complexity of the national and racial borders in Eastern Europe, as many Russians were born in or have families in Ukraine (and vice versa).
One of the students actually said: “I’m not even Russian by blood, you know?”
So, even though they thought “it was also a bit of a tough step to call ourselves Russians,” the students want the explicit branding of their organisation as “led by Russian students” to show that many ordinary Russians oppose the war.
What more can Russian students do?
One of the students said: “I think one of the most important things is to speak up. Everyday. Post something. Support your Ukrainian friends or support people form Ukraine.
Another one echoed this: “Speaking to a lot of my Ukrainian friends whose families actually fled from Ukraine during these horrific times, they’ve said that they appreciate it when their Russian friends or other Russian people reach out them them and say, ‘I’m here for you. I’m also against this.'”
But since they agree “words of support might not mean very much right now because the boundary [between Russians and Ukrainians] seems to be very black-and-white,” the students also hope to show their solidarity with concrete actions through For Peace We Stand Together. They’ve raised £3,500 in under a month from more than 320 donors and expanded with branches in different universities.
After all, everything they’ve been doing and trying to do have been efforts to support victims of the war and convey the message: “We are not evil, we don’t support what’s happening.”
Feature image credit: Instagram @forpeacewestandtogether